My older sister lost one of her best friends in a fatal car crash eight months ago. Grief in large and consuming proximity was not something I had much experience with until this year. The powerful denting it has done to someone who I am so close with is vexing. My own grief has become disoriented in my heartbreak for her struggle and has brought me piles of questions for the world beyond on our own world: heaven.

Illustration by Megan Mulholland

My reasons, driven by what Sunday school teachers had plastered in my brain as common sense, were what I first turned to for answers. God needs her in heaven. She was better than human, immortal, meant for the life of an angel. We will be reunited with her one day.

Though these reasons are beautiful, they never fully settled with me. She was many things in this world that were grand and admirable, but deeming her a better human — as heaven and an angelic life appeared to do — seemed belittling of individual’s life here on Earth.

According to a recent Pew Research Center survey, one-fifth of Americans today do not identify with any religion, some of the highest percentages ever recorded. However, of these 46 million unaffiliated adults, two-thirds say they believe in God, more than half say they have a connection with nature, a third of them classify themselves as “spiritual,” and one in five say they pray every day.

Perennial philosophy offers a path of philosophy for those who are spiritually independent. According to the book “Perennial Wisdom for the Spiritually Independent” by Rami Shapiro, an author and Jewish Rabbi, the philosophy includes there is one reality and that reality can be called ‘God,’ individuals identify with “our culturally conditioned individual ego,” and that this identification leads to peace replacing anxiety and suffering. Humans should realize that their true nature is this manifestation of the single reality, God, and place responsibility and reason in themselves.

Perennial wisdom and my struggles with my original answer to death collided when I read Shapiro stressed “to know God is to know yourself; to know yourself is to know God” and “knowing you are God is knowing everything else is God.” For individuals to truly know themselves they must recognize themselves as grand as God, and each person next to them, equally grand.

Some find inspiration and guidance in God’s grace or heaven’s refuge, but after swimming through the ideas of perennial wisdom I find inspiration in the individual. We are each grand and living our most moral lives because of the humanity and goodness of the person sitting to the right and left of you. We are each capable of being what God is to each other, of providing that comfort. We are every part of our reality on Earth.

Though final answers might take a lifetime to find me, for this moment, honoring her best rests in honoring that we are worthy of each other, and that we are worthy of the world we are a part of, nothing more.

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