"... one day I'll be sand on a beach by the sea."

Me: "I hope there's an afterlife."

Him: "Me too."

After our guests were gone and the television was turned off and LOST was over, this is what we spoke of. We only got a few sentences into the conversation about one of us dying first before we had to stop. We were already too sad. Death on an individual level is fascinating, frightening and inevitable. Death for the one you love? Too tragic to utter the words.

I went to Sunday School almost every Sunday growing up. It was terrible, but not because of the religious aspect of it. The other kids in my class were very unlike me; we ran in different social circles at school and my curiosity with regard to religion and the world was squashed by social pressure. So I never asked many questions. I did, however, internally think about religion and Jesus and God. I would never have admitted it to my parents at the time, but a life of Sunday School did wonders for the way I was able to later handle literary analysis and appreciate art. At some point you lose out in society if you don't have a basic knowledge of some religion.

For all those years, we attended a Lutheran church. I did mazes and word finds with the names of the apostles. Eventually I became a Sunday School teacher myself; my first act was to throw out the curriculum and create my own in which I taught my students about Lutheranism in conversation with Judaism and Hinduism and Buddhism. I wrote an Easter pageant and got a bunch of kids to put it on. I wrote the Christmas pageant and coordinated dress rehearsals. Church had become my sandbox to play in; it is where I first saw myself as a leader.

All the while, people I knew and loved died. Not often, but with the kind of stark rhythm that reminds you to never turn your back on it. First it was a great-grandmother, a great-aunt and uncle. My Pop-pop in 9th grade, when I cried for the first time at school in the hallway and felt embarrassed about it. A classmate in the 10th grade. They all felt like celebrities, people I'd known and talked to, people who got the answer to the only question that felt like it mattered: where do you go when you die?

In more recent years it's been people I've known even more intimately. My Nana. My Nana Epting. My mom's best friend. Each time, a reminder that the party I live in my 20s doesn't go on forever. Death is coming and so is the answer to that question.

It's not important to me what it is, only that there is an it. Surely after all of this, after the kind of beauty and terribleness that exists in life, there's a finale that pulls it all together. I don't know there is, but I hope for it. This chapter, this time spent as a woman, as an American, all of it arbitrary and un-chosen: surely there is someplace that allows us out of these blinders, allows us to see the whole picture.


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