by Barry Klassel, Humanist Chaplain at Rutgers University
It’s almost midnight. Two friends in their twenties walk down the beach toward the water. Behind them, the lights of the city glow in the distance.
Earlier in the day the two attended the funeral of a third friend. His family seemed devastated, but one by one various speakers did their best to talk about the life of the deceased and his last days in pain as they tried to deal with the difficulty of accepting his death.
The two friends sit silently on the sand. Before them, the waves surge and retreat. The dark sky above is pin-pointed with a million stars.
One of the friends is deeply religious. The funeral had raised some nagging doubts, exposed some fault lines in his faith. How could someone die so young, a couple of weeks before he was to be married? It was not to be understood. But there must be some reason and only God knew that. And death is not the end, he reassured himself, but only the beginning of something new and better. Otherwise our lives have no meaning. He had told the family he would say a prayer each time he thought of them and have his congregation say a prayer when he got back home. He closed his eyes and repeated some familiar words until he felt a change come over him. His poor friend was at peace, freed from suffering. When he opened his eyes the air felt warmer, the light of the stars seemed an expression of some universal love. There was a caring force ultimately in charge. That conviction satisfied him for now. He knew he must spread the good word.
The other friend sitting with him is an atheist. The funeral had raised some old thoughts. Individuals die. Whole species die. And nothing comes back from the dead. Death was natural, to be sure, he said to himself. But where was the comfort in that? He had trouble understanding how to deal with the death of someone close to him, someone his own age with his life ahead of him. And it had been hard finding something to say to the family. So he shared a couple of stories and said he’d always remember their son, which pleased them. Now, at night, his efforts seemed only partially adequate to the task. He looked up at the stars that had been alive for billions of years and would be alive for billions more. They were beautiful, but cold. They didn’t know of our existence, or care. We must find our own answers in the here and now, he thought. We are alone in the universe, true. But, most importantly, we are alone together. That was a good start. He knew he must share his concerns with others.
Barry Klassel (Chaplain, Humanist Community @ Rutgers) Barry is currently Humanist Chaplain at Rutgers University. After studying psychology at Columbia College, Barry earned a Masters degree in theater at the University of Pittsburgh. He also attended the MFA in Acting program at Florida State. He has acted and directed in a variety of plays in NYC and elsewhere. He last directed a play by Tom Flynn on post-apocalyptic America called Messiah Game. Currently, and in addition to his work at Rutgers, Barry performs in an arts-in-education program and volunteers on a crisis/suicide hotline. You can read more about Barry at the Rutgers Humanist Chaplaincy website.