For a Christian, no loss is absolute. Friends will be there in Heaven after death, and all good things lost here will be there, too.

We atheists don’t have that consolation — we know that everything is impermanent. With time, all will cease, die, fade, and be forgotten. So will bad things; so will good ones. Even words, even stars, even atoms. When a friend dies, she is no more, and never will be again.

Kind of a bummer, really.

But what this means is that we must live — we must love what we have, treasure every moment and every smile. (Or, if you ask a certain brand of a Christian, we must be wild hedonistic drunkard rapists. Ah well; I myself don’t see absolute egotism as particularly enjoyable.) At the same time, we must not get too attached to earthly things — not because our eyes are on some heavenly reward, but because we know loss is inevitable. Atheism is a materialistic view of the world, but it isn’t one that encourages materialistic attitudes — even if you die with the most toys, you yourself will be dead, gone, no more, and what kind of a victory is that?

And frenetically scrabbling for more moments, a few more breaths of life, love and possession, might very well ruin that remaining time: greed does not pay. Making yourself miserable pursuing wealth and beauty isn’t worth much if you don’t leave yourself time to enjoy what you have. All things pass, even good ones, even health, even memory, even life. This cannot be gainsaid, but it leaves time enough for love.

There’s a difference in the flavors of these consolations for loss: for them, there is a shady promise of everything returned sixfold, eventually, if you just wait, so there is no need to get too agitated, or to hurry; for us, all losses are final, and thus all we have is sixfold more precious, and every moment counts. If loss stings, it is because you have lost something that was precious and good.

This might be poor consolation, but it’s all there is unless one wishes to escape into fantasy — and it’s no poorer than the love of a Juliet and her Romeo.

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