Atheists like me need to have a positive relationship with the concept of "nothingness." The Humanist movement intelligently turns attention away from the fantastical 'other-world' of God and heaven, and towards the very real 'this-world' where life actually happens. Meaning and redemption have to happen in this life, because everything beyond this life is "nothingness." (Ecclesiastes 9:10) But I think that this nothingness still deserves our attention.
As someone who loves words, I often equate human life with speech. When I imagine the world before humans evolved, I always imagine it as 'silent'-- anyone who's spent any time in nature knows I do not mean this literally. But still-- can you imagine the world without its current cacophony of inner monologues, all that thinking and feeling and scheming-- doesn't it seem quieter? An ego-less world-- seems quiet. Outside the realm of human thoughts, a deafening silence.
These thoughts about silence come to me when I think of the expanse of time in which my very short life occurs. There is a noise that's been going on for the last 27 years, and hopefully for another 100, and I call that noise "me"-- in fact "me" is the sound it usually makes. But before and after my life, there's a silence where this "me" will be and will once have been. I emerge from and return to nothingness, in between briefly participating in physical and conscious life. But, in either direction in time, a vast nothingness surrounds me.
I attempt to find peace in this experience of silence. It takes some of the burden off my existence, as I remember once again that non-existence is my more common state. I find it sobering and strengthening-- sobering because all of my cares and concerns are seen in its light (or rather, darkness), and strengthening because my time, and the ideals I might promote in that time, becomes that much more precious. In little silences during my day, and in the middle of the night, I am reminded of that greater silence, and I take comfort in its constancy. I am here for now, and that is enough, because it must be enough.