Fear of future loss is a lingering effect of past loss. This is normal, and a total bummer. In mid-March 2020 I was home, and just trying to psych myself up to live and adapt to “the new normal.” But the previous normal had just been stolen from me; why would I be so foolish as to establish a new one? Why be a sucker and lose myself again in the illusion of stability and control? My grief and anxiety gave birth to protective rage and despair, which refused to acclimate to the world, and refused to feel OK in it.
I made tentative peace with this life and this world-- we’ll see how it goes, pending future hardship, pending future decisions about psychiatric medication. Philosophically, I made this peace through two insights: (1) by re-focusing my work, as I discussed on April Fool’s; (2) by developing my own take on Stoic spiritual exercises related to gratitude and loss.
Regarding #2, here are the moves:
1) Whether there’s a god or not, it’s amazing that anything (including us) exists.
2) Given my lack of belief in a god, that amazement stems from an emotional awareness of how unlikely the natural/human/industrial world feels.
3) Can you feel that? How unlikely all of this is? How many myriad ways none of this (or a radically different version of all this) could have come to pass?
4) Given the unlikelihood of any particular scenario, it’s even more amazing (or rather, ridiculous) that we, as agents, take for granted that we can make and execute plans.
Let’s take a brief interlude to note how my thought-process would have diverged if, at step #2, the ‘given’ was a belief in a god:
2b) Given my belief in a god, that amazement stems from the awareness that all things proceed from god’s will.
3b) Can you feel that? How being just one creature in a god’s creation leads to these feelings of personal significance and insignificance?
4b) Given the power of a god’s will, it’s wild that we, as agents, take any confidence or comfort in our own wills.
The conclusion of this religious line of thought: We should always remember to humble ourselves before the divine will. One way to do that would be to affix the addendum “God Willing” any time we dare to plan or hope for the future.
The atheist has no such ‘out’ to this problem of personal powerlessness. The believer may humble themselves, but they ultimately find comfort and perhaps reassurance through connection to an actually effective will (a god’s) in the universe. Secular-seeming alternatives like “if the universe wants” or “if the fates allow” still project (at least grammatically) some higher, effective agency.
So, what’s the truly atheistic alternative? To hold on to our amazement at the unlikelihood of any/all things, and therefore to make all plans and hopes with an appreciation for the sheer comedy/absurdity of daring to desire. I suggest this: That we affix the addendum “as unlikely as that sounds”* to our hopes and plans. Because, really, this is all so unlikely! Let’s be amazed and appreciative of any good we get, and assume that it’s not ours to possess. We can still dare to desire, but without the foolishness of presuming control or possession.
I really hope these thoughts serve me as the future unfolds. Through stability and instability, I want to live gracefully-- as unlikely as that sounds.
*(If this sounds like a bummer to you, please note that it’s way less dark than previous drafts, which included “if we don’t die first,” “not that it matters,” or “not that the world cares.”)