by Tommi Avicolli Mecca
Mortality. The most frightening and beguiling reality that any human has to face about him/herself. What sense does it really make? None that I can imagine.
Being an atheist since I was 16, the Thor-like bully in the clouds threatening us with everlasting hell fire as a way to make us do what he demands vanished from my life a long time ago. It’s all bets off once I close my eyes for that final time. Which, of course, doesn’t make me anxious to check out what’s beyond this existence. It may not be the best, but at least here I know what the deal is.
How well I remember the horrible dread I felt going to sleep sometimes when I was a kid. The twisted Immaculate Heart of Mary nuns in Catholic school filled us with the most terrifying images of eternal hell fire, our punishment for the least infraction against the very scary and vengeful deity they worshipped without question.
After a brush with gay sex with a neighborhood boy when I was 12, I spent many a night lying wide awake refusing to close my eyes because, though I said my Act of Contrition over and over again, I knew god was just waiting to strike me down, like some hungry predator. I had committed an unforgivable sin. I couldn’t even confess it. How could I admit what I had done?
There was no doubt about it: my soul would dart up to the Pearly Gates and St. Peter would be there with his humungous book containing the deeds -- and thoughts -- of every human being on Earth. He would see that I had gone into the alley with Ant’ney after we stole a copy of Playboy from the local drug store.
There would be no defense, no due process. The ground would open beneath me and my soul would plunge right into hell. I would never even glimpse the so-called beatific vision of the deity that I had faithfully served as an altar boy at 5:30 AM Mass weekday mornings. I was made a soldier of Christ at my Confirmation two years before. I also took my first Holy Communion. It was all for naught.
Fortunately, famed atheist and Existentialist Jean-Paul Sartre and other heathen writers saved my life. I discovered many of them through my brother and on trips to an alternative bookstore in downtown Philly where their works rested on ancient wooden shelves probably built by the Quakers who first settled the city.
Finally, a full night of sleep!
All these thoughts about the impermanence of human existence rolled around in my head after leaving my friend Howard Wallace’s memorial yesterday afternoon. Howard left a legacy that can’t be beat -- over a half century of tireless fighting for the underdog. Whether it was farmworkers, queers, African Americans, women, or workers, Howard organized to make their lives better. He did it with a vengeance. A fellow atheist, he was driven by a sense of justice that doesn’t come from religion, it comes from the very core of who we are as human beings.
I kept thinking, where are you now, Howard? Are you watching us? Are you someplace better? Or are you nowhere? Simply gone. Your whole time on this planet preserved in the memories of those of us who had the privilege of knowing you, of participating in the fights you championed.
As the years pile up behind me and my time draws closer, these thoughts just don’t make for a good night of sleep.