The National Public Radio has an ongoing project, the 'I believe' series, in which they call people to contribute in writing short essays (around 500 words) where they tell about what they believe in. The project looks for positive essays where people focus on the subjects they actually believe in, not in those they do not believe, and that tell the story of what was that led people to believe in a determinate matter.
"I believe there is no God", "I believe in Creativity", "I believe in imagination", are just a few of the many I believes that people have sent to NPR, but here's one that I found today and that I particularly like, "I believe there is more to life than my life", by Jamaica Ritcher.
In a way, this short, simple, straight to the point, emotional and yet very rational essay, gives voice to what I believe: that although there's no life after life, death is nevertheless not an end to what we are; death is just one of a series of changes in which we all have taken part for millions of years, a step that's far from the last but the first one to build new paths, and new life—even if it’s not life as we now know it. So here it is, for your enjoyment, Jamaica Ritcher's 'I Believe'.
My daughter Maia is 2 and has just asked about our cat. Our cat is dead. Maia knows this. What she's wondering is where he's gone and what has happened to him now that he no longer meows beneath her kitchen chair, impatient for the drips off her spoon.
This is the moment I realize I need to know what I believe.
My parents were straightforward in admitting they didn't know what happens when we die. As a child, I probably lost a solid year of sleep pondering that enormous mystery. Bone-still under the covers I lay awake picturing my future of eternal nothingness and wracked by the tragedy of no more Me. The subject still haunts me. I'd like Maia's attitude to be slightly healthier. This is what I bring to composing an answer to her question about the cat.
After a weighty pause I tell my daughter that Martin (the cat) is out in the field. I tell her that when animals, including people, die, they are usually put into the ground and that their bodies become the grasses, flowers and trees. I pass my hand over Maia's blonde curls, gently touch a rosy cheek and check her reaction. She appears untroubled. She seems thrilled by the thought of one day becoming a flower.
I am stunned. In this exchange, I actually realize what I believe, as if so many fragments from my life -- camping trips and nature walks, pangs of sympathy, awe toward the crashing sea and towering skyscraper, love, science class, motherhood -- have suddenly converged into one unified conviction: not that I'm destined for plant fertilizer, but that there is more to life than my life. I am not the lonely human, plunked down on earth to aimlessly wander. I am a part of that earth and not going anywhere -- just like the spider up in the corner, the dust on the sill and the cat I buried in the backyard. I watch Maia mull things over while she munches her Cheerios. I feel an unfamiliar calm. I feel connected. I am humbled and, what's more, happy. Life, death: both are all around me, within my every breath.
Later, I reach for my daughter's hand and we muddy our shoes with a springtime walk. Together, we see new leaves glowing against the sun, green hillsides shimmering with the breeze, the bright purple bursts of lupine. And it's okay if there is nothing beyond this, because there is this: life, everlasting, in the bloom of every flower.
Posted in NPR.org, on April 24, 2006.