Here is the edited version of my piece, as it appears in the July issue of The Sun. The subject: Heat.
I was home for a brief visit in the humid heat of a Carolina summer. “So you really don’t believe in God?” my dad asked nonchalantly as we drove by the church of my childhood.
Oh, Lord, I thought. I always felt a slight rush of blood to my cheeks when this subject came up.
I’d been raised Catholic — with the incantations and the incense, the gilded chalice and the guilty conscience — but I’d pulled away from the Church as a young woman, finally rejecting all religion. My dad was a devout convert, and I couldn’t help but feel that my lack of faith caused him consternation.
Still, I was honest with him. I said I thought there are energies and dimensions we don’t understand, but I didn’t think there’s a deity, certainly not one who sits in judgment and punishes and rewards.
“So you don’t believe in an afterlife either?” he asked. “No heaven and hell?”
I told him I believed that we have only this one life to live, and when it’s over, it’s over. I didn’t acknowledge that I sometimes had midnight moments of existential dread and panic due to this belief.
“Who knows, Dad,” I said, wanting to lighten the mood. “I could be wrong. Maybe after I die I will be pleasantly surprised.”
“Or maybe not,” he replied.
At first I felt shock: Had he implied that I’d be banished to fires of hell? But then I saw the twinkle in his eye.
My father died a few years later. I still don’t think I will see him in an afterlife, but I have felt his presence near me since his death.
I am a Buddhist now. I wonder if he would consider that an improvement over my atheism. I certainly do. I’ll take the cycle of rebirth over the fires of hell any day. And my meditation practice has quelled those white-hot fears in the middle of the night.