Tenth place — College essay contest: Paige Nielsen

No worries of the past and future

FFRF awarded Paige $300.

By Paige Nielsen

Pige Nielsen

The saying “there is no time like the present” holds significant meaning when considering the worth of worrying about an afterlife. The here and the now is certain, and I think that a life spent revolving around a heaven and hell that may not even exist is a life wasted.

During our time here on Earth, we can see tangible, important problems that do not concern the existence of an afterlife — such as poverty, social injustice, the pointless suffering of innocent humans, and, more recently, a global environmental crisis. As such an intelligent species, how can we disregard these problems and focus on something so abstract and impossible to study, let alone know?

I agree with John Lennon’s quote because rather than fearing hell, humans should fear those problems that directly affect them while alive on this planet. When one stops believing in a hell, one focuses on the positives of living. In contrast, rather than appreciate the beauty of a heaven that no one has ever observed, the astounding beauty of the world we are so fortunate to have found ourselves living in should be celebrated, such as the simple view of a sunset or an interesting cloud formation. Both are enough to bring tears to my eyes as they remind me how lucky I am to be able to experience my existence and the beauty of Earth.

In addition to the importance of focusing on the problems of the present, focusing on the joys of the present is also an effective way to live a fulfilling life. A better and more enjoyable life can be led when it is focused on the family, friends and simple things that affect one’s well- being directly, rather than anguishing over an undetermined future. Hobbies that make you smile, friends that make you laugh, family who you love — all these things are in the present and have nothing to do with an afterlife. The laugh of a baby should be more important than whether or not that baby will go to heaven or hell when it reaches the end of its life. The smile of a loved one cannot be compared to the supposed beauty of the hypothetical pearly gates of heaven. The pain of heartbreak should not be shoved aside and diminished in comparison to the possibility of burning in an unpleasant afterlife. These material things are real and certain, and the afterlife simply is not. Doing what makes you happy and helping support others who are struggling in the present world does wonders for the human psyche, and I feel that such actions will lead to a very fulfilling life.

Life can be incredibly short in this unpredictable world. Although unlikely, life can end at any moment of any day, so each moment we live in should be perceived as a gift and utilized to enjoy the time which we are certain that we have. At the end of our lives, if we find out there is nothing beyond, it would be quite tragic to have wasted all of those precious, finite moments worrying about an unknowable afterlife. When people get old, they often have regrets about not doing everything they wanted to accomplish in life. Living in the present is a way to avoid that sinking feeling that time is passing us by, and the constant contemplation of an afterlife magnifies those regrets we may face. The present moment is the only moment we have control over as humans, the passage of time is beyond our limits. While our actions in the present do affect the future, the only thing we truly have control over is the present. Worrying about an afterlife will only rob us of the riches within our actual grasp.

Paige, 19, is from Merritt Island, Fla., and attends Florida State University, where she plans to get a degree in chemical and biomedical engineering. After graduation, she would like to work in stem cell research and tissue engineering.  She is active in the LGBT community and works as an ocean rescue lifeguard at Cocoa Beach.