Fourth place (tie) — Mackenzie Brown: Time not lost

By Mackenzie Brown

Mackenzie Brown

As cliched as it sounds, you really do “only live once.” Everyone is handed one chance to live, to make choices, and to experience what they want. The reason that life itself is meaningful is because only one life exists. The idea of an afterlife makes the meaning of life less, well, meaningful. Religion offers this picture-perfect experience after death, but it is more of a false comfort than a reality. Heaven is a way to cope with death, but all it actually does is lessen the value of life while alive.

When people are asked about what they regret, their answers usually involve the things they did not do, rather than the things they did. When people get to the end of their lives, it seems they would want to feel fulfilled, not left wondering what could have been. Religion, for many people, is a way of avoiding the regrets, because, after all, they can just experience everything in heaven. The harsh truth, though, is that there is no heaven, and there will be no more time left to experience anything. The way to making life mean something is to know that what we are doing now is what matters. You only get so many shots, so you have to make them count, because in the “afterlife” there are no hoops to shoot through.

My mother used to go to church. But then I was diagnosed with a life-long illness. And when I was in the hospital for this illness at the age of 3, my mother found her way into the children’s terminal illness wing. She tells me that was the moment she stopped believing in religion. That story has always stuck with me since so many people walk down those halls and still go to church and believe in God. I reject religion for the same reason she did.

If I believed in God or a higher power, it might have been easier to deal with my illness, to think that it was all part of a bigger plan. But that would not be real. My illness has made me realize that life is painfully short. There is no time to waste, you can live life freely, or you can miss out.

I cannot claim to know the meaning of life. I do not know what happens after death. I do know that I do not want to die without having lived to the best of my ability. This world matters because, while it’s not all sunshine and rainbows, it’s still all we have got. So, here’s another cliche: Live like today is your last day (with no afterlife).

Mackenzie, 17, attended Highland High School in Gilbert, Ariz., during which time she put in hundreds of hours of volunteer work. She will be attending Arizona State University and is already part of ASU’s Next Generation Service Corps. She plans to major in kinesiology and to become an occupational therapist who works with people with disabilities.