Sometimes my five-year old son, Alex, likes to trade beds with his younger brother. He likes to sleep in his brother's car bed and drape blankets over the openings for "privacy". But last night the darkness of the room, exaggerated by the privacy blankets, started to freak him out. He came out of his room and said he felt like there were ghosts in the bed. Frowning, he told me, "Autumn [his older sister] said ghosts aren't real. But sometimes I feel like they're real in here," pointing to his chest.
I said, "That can be scary, huh. Sometimes our feelings tell us one thing but we know it's not really true." I held him for a while and we talked some more. Finally I told him that his mom was baking cookies and that if he went back to bed, I would bring him a cookie when they were ready. I went back with him to his room, and we pulled the privacy blankets off the bed to help him feel less scared.
As he was yanking on an afghan to cover himself with it, I said, "Do you know who made this blanket?"
He said, "Mom."
I said, "Nope, not Mom..."
He guessed, "Grandma?"
I said, "Nope, not even Grandma. It was my grandma. Grandpa Thelen's mom. Her name was Florence, and she was a really nice grandma. I loved her very much, and that's why we named Anita [our baby] after her, with her middle name Florence."
He asked, "Is she still alive?"
I said, "No, she died... probably about fifteen years ago."
Then Alex took the conversation in a direction that I always find a little uncomfortable, because I'm never sure what to say. He said, "My teacher at church said that when you die, then you come back alive."
I said, "That's what some people think, huh. That's what they teach you at church."
And then he asked the salient question I knew was coming. "Is that true?"
I thought about it for a few seconds. I said, "It would sure be nice, wouldn't it? It's a nice idea, and I would really like it to be true. But I just don't know. I think sometimes you just have to say, I don't know, but I hope so."
He said, "I hope so, too."
It was a touching moment for me. I think my son is a lot like me, and he often thinks about these kinds of things. We have conversations about it every so often. Even though I'm never sure exactly what to say, I always love the feeling of helping my kids explore their ideas about this existence we find ourselves in.
Of all the things that one could hope to be true about religion, I think the idea of an afterlife is the one I would actually want to be true. I don't particularly care whether there is a god, or whether Jesus was who Christians think he was, or which church is God's One True Church. I certainly don't care about most of the peculiar doctrines of Christianity or any other religion. But to be able to prolong my own existence, and to spend time with those I love, even after death? Yeah, I could live with that one. It seems extremely unlikely, and I don't have any evidence for it, and I have no good reasons to believe it whatsoever, but I actually do hope that one is true.