Where did we come from? How did we get here? Who are we? What are we meant to do?
These questions have troubled humans for an unparalleled time-span. Living with chronic illness is especially challenging at times, because we often crumble under the weight of our experience and beg to know why – why us, why me, why am I suffering like this?
It should not be entirely surprising to know that people, family members included, have told me I am suffering because I am an atheist. Apparently, I just need to find Jesus. As if, I am doing this to myself, as if I deserve this dehumanizing existence, as if I am not doing everything within my power and reach to have a healthier and happier life. It is almost laughable for someone to patronize me in such a way with religion. Of course, in their mind, they are saving me from myself – which is why it’s so patronizing and condescending. It is to suggest I do not have a life worth living. Even more, it is insulting to every newborn in every NICU, dying or experiencing debilitating illness – because it is to imply they also deserve, or rather there is a reason, for this existence.
And in those moments of hearing those sentences, those utterly destructive and dismissive phrases, I am weak. I am exhausted. I am frustrated and angry.
But don’t get me wrong, I have asked myself that question, I have pondered if maybe I prayed or believed, it might have been different. But that is illogical and it does not hold up. Religious people get sick. Rude people get sick. Nice people get sick. Children get sick. Everyone is susceptible to chronic illness, chronic pain and disability. Pain does not give two shits which god you pray to, which book you read to silence your fears and insecurities – no because pain just is.
And then I remember why I am not religious.
The funny thing is, my atheism is a source of great joy in my life and it is a part of my mental, emotional and intellectual wellness. People wrongly assume atheism means I do not have a purpose because when I die, I will be nothing (or they tell me I’m going to hell without realizing the irony). But I was nothing before I was born. I will be nothing when I die. I do not live for my death, I live for my life. Every day before I die is a day I have lived. It is a day I have discovered, a day I have loved and a day I have been in pain. The wonder of the universe, of our humanity and our evolution amazes me every single day. This Earth is a beautiful pale dot, in a massive cosmos, with so much for me to try to understand and explore. I am in awe of the complexity of nature and the wonderful and charming way of humans, even when my fellow humans take a metaphorical shit on me.
We just are. People just are sick. There is no reason. There is no god pulling at the puppet strings and forcing illness, pain and suffering on unsuspecting victims to teach them strength, or some other proverbial lesson. Please don’t mistake this as me suggesting your belief in whatever god is wrong, or bad. Believe whatever the fuck you want. That is irrelevant to me. But your assumption, as a religious person, that sick people are sick for some reason is wrong and harmful. It dismisses those who are actually experiencing chronic illness, chronic pain and disability. Instead of suggesting our lack of belief, or different belief is the cause of our illness, listen to us. Hear us in our existential crises and support us, because we need you – we need our friends and families to see us and to hear us, to actually hear what we are saying.
We are, you and I, at least one of the ways the universe knows itself. – Bill Nye