JEFF PEARLMAN

Coming October 2022: "The Last Folk Hero: The Life and Myth of Bo Jackson"

God needed another angel

Lately I’ve been thinking a fair amount about death. I know … I know—not a big surprise. But this is different. Really.

Over the past several years, my thinking on dying has changed. I used to regularly wake up in the middle of the night and gasp. Then gasp again. And again. The idea of my inevitable nothingness scared the shit out of me, causing me sleepless spans and great fear. I just couldn’t get my head around an eternity of nothingness. How could it be? Heaven—great. Hell—not great, but at least awareness. But … nothingness? Pure, total nothingness? Ugh.

Now, my thinking has largely changed. I’m not thrilled with non-existence, but I’m significantly more comfortable. I think a big part of this comes with having children, and wanting them to have happy, healthy, productive, long lives. I don’t want to outlive them. Like, there’s nothing I want less than to outlive them. It would destroy me. So, hey, I’ll die and they’ll go on. That’s not merely desirable to me. It’s comforting. Appealing, even.

That said, it also leads my brain to the possibility of my children passing before I do. I know people who have lost sons and daughters, and it’s so terrible (and terribly unfair) that even writing about it makes me uncomfortable. Along those lines, there’s one line that people say when a child dies that drives me absolutely, positively, 100-percent insane.

“God needed another angel.”

When I hear “God needed another angel,” my first thought is, “Fuck yourself.” My second thought is, “Really, fuck yourself.” Then I stop and think, “Oh, wait. You mean no harm. You’re just fucking stupid. My bad.”

To be clear: A child doesn’t die because God needed another angel, and to suggest such a vapid and banal motivation is, at best, a sign of oxygen deprivation. A child dies because life can be terribly unfair, and horrible things happen to undeserving innocents. I don’t know why, though I tend to lean toward, “God doesn’t exist, so … fuck.” But perhaps God does exist. Perhaps it’s all about free will, and life happening as it happens, and good fortune and bad fortune being a byproduct of random rollings of the dice. I’m not sure.

What I do know (with 100-percent certainty) is that kids don’t die because God’s lonely. And if you use that line to comfort a parent, well, stop it.

Stop right now.