I think mostly this question is of how to live now. To me it's inextricably linked with a sense of self-realisation. I am
but the question of of what if I'm not
guides us to how
we should be. I'm struck by the quiet repose that some gain in later life from a life well lived
. If at some point we can say, "I'm ready", I sense it is precisely because of the state this "I" is brought forth in which is a reflection of what we've done in life, both intenally and externally. There's completion to the life narrative as it were.
Nevertheless, I am action and I don't think I can relate to non-existence, as it is in actuality. But it seems to be the nature of I to try to relate so relation to non-existence becomes a perversion. Rather than the unconscious of sleep, it is envisaged more as a sci-fi/fantasy style scenario of perhaps a consciousness that is divorced from the world, like a ghost that can move about and experience but not connect
with what is most dear. Like the idea that people are going on without us, "oh it's a shame about so-and-so etc", but I'm right here! Please see me, please acknowledge me etc. This latent anxiety might not be especially conscious to the individual of course.
Having watched the remainder of that discussion with the late Hitchens and co, I was especially struck by the question of what an atheist can offer the dying or the bereaved. What came to mind is the account Carl Sagan's wife has given us:
When my husband died, because he was so famous and known for not being a believer, many people would come up to me-it still sometimes happens-and ask me if Carl changed at the end and converted to a belief in an afterlife. They also frequently ask me if I think I will see him again. Carl faced his death with unflagging courage and never sought refuge in illusions. The tragedy was that we knew we would never see each other again. I don’t ever expect to be reunited with Carl. But, the great thing is that when we were together, for nearly twenty years, we lived with a vivid appreciation of how brief and precious life is. We never trivialized the meaning of death by pretending it was anything other than a final parting. Every single moment that we were alive and we were together was miraculous-not miraculous in the sense of inexplicable or supernatural. We knew we were beneficiaries of chance… . That pure chance could be so generous and so kind… . That we could find each other, as Carl wrote so beautifully in Cosmos, you know, in the vastness of space and the immensity of time… . That we could be together for twenty years. That is something which sustains me and it’s much more meaningful… . The way he treated me and the way I treated him, the way we took care of each other and our family, while he lived. That is so much more important than the idea I will see him someday. I don’t think I’ll ever see Carl again. But I saw him. We saw each other. We found each other in the cosmos, and that was wonderful.
This feeling may not be especially helpful to someone on a deathbed that cannot in some way, come to terms with themself. But it allows for the possibility of coming to terms with oneself by means of what we have rather than what we don't. Even if those "haves" form a relatively meagre list by the standards of another. That is besides the point because nobody can die for you.
Some believers turn the problem around by suggesting we perhaps rid ourselves of the anxiety of "rushing for completion" before the bell tower tolls because there already is a wider meaning that encompasses us that is apart from our efforts but can only be realised through them. So then it is not
a question of this life not mattering because there is something beyond it but rather everything in this life matters as a means of understanding that there is something beyond it. I discount neither approach in and of itself but respect those who are genuine
in an acknowledgement of "the human problem".