I can’t say I have never been a religious person, but I can say that I figured most of that stuff out by the age of eight. My parents didn’t attend church, but would take my brother and I if we wanted to go, to any church we wanted to attend. Now that I think about it, I guess they left all the big decisions to us–they didn’t discuss who they voted for, they let us choose our own middle names (we both declined), and they left the fate of our immortal souls in our adorable child-sized hands.
My atheism is rarely discussed–barely even noticed–until someone dies. Then in the middle of all the sadness, certain friends or relatives want to know how I can live with the idea that my uncle isn’t playing fetch with my dog, Patches, on a cloud somewhere for all of eternity. We are hardly theological scholars (in fact, that statement remains true if you replace the word “theological” with any other word besides “Dr. Pepper”), so it can be difficult to explain my beliefs without making them think I’m shitting on theirs.
Something interesting happened after my Dad passed away in 2005. My family started a new holiday tradition in which we each buy a gift for ourselves and we call it our Christmas present from Dad.
The first year my dad gave me some art from Michael Paulus and Sam Brown that I had been wanting forever but kept putting off buying. The next year I got an iPhone. Each year I try to find something unnecessary–something that I can live without but really want, the idea being that it should be a true gift, and not fulfilling a need I would have to take care of anyway.
This year Dad cleaned out my Amazon wishlist (he’s really spoiling me, now). The items will remain wrapped until Christmas morning, when I will find a pretty box with a card that says “Merry Xmas from Dad” containing the 30 Rock soundtrack, the new Amy Sedaris book and a selection of movies that includes Ladies and Gentlemen the Fabulous Stains, Over the Edge and Night of the Comet.
I can’t wait to see the look on my face!
Ironically, my father would never have actually picked any of those things. Like, there’s no way he would have spotted a copy of Night of the Comet and thought, “Oooh–Darci will want that.” (Whereas, I am reasonably sure that literally every other person who knows me, who stumbles upon a copy of Night of the Comet thinks, “Oooh–Darci will want that,” unless they assume I already have it).
But it doesn’t matter what he would or wouldn’t have done. Death has made my Dad a much better gift-giver. And this new tradition has made the holidays without him a little easier to bear.
I want to reassure those certain friends and relatives that I am just fine without the belief in Heaven or any kind of afterlife. I’m fine because I remain connected to my father in the ways that really matter to me.
He will find me whenever cheerleaders from the Valley take on scientist zombies in the wake of a cosmic apocalypse.