There Is More to Life Than My Life When the family cat dies, NPR listener Jamaica Ritcher has to explain to her 2-year-old daughter what happened. In searching for an explanation of death, Ritcher finds a belief to guide her life.
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There Is More to Life Than My Life

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There Is More to Life Than My Life

There Is More to Life Than My Life

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(Soundbite of This I Believe intro)

MADELEINE BRAND, host:

For the past year, NPR has been broadcasting a revival of the 1950s Edward R. Murrow series This I Believe. It asks people to consider the principles that guide their lives and then summarize them in less than 500 words.

Today, we present an essay by public radio listener Jamaica Ritcher. Here is the series curator, independent producer Jay Allison.

Mr. JAY ALLISON (Independent Producer): Jamaica Ritcher and her husband are outdoors people. She has a Masters in Natural Science and her husband is a plant biologist. In California, and now in Australia, they camp and hike and take their kids, too.

Her oldest child, Maya, is also intrigued by the natural world and, like all children, in what it means to live and die. It was in the necessity of explanation that her mother came to name her own belief.

Here is Jamaica Ritcher with her essay for This I Believe.

Ms. JAMAICA RITCHER (Essayist): My daughter Maya is two and has just asked about our cat. Our cat is dead. Maya knows this. What she's wondering is where he's gone and what has happened to him now that he no longer meows beneath her kitchen chair, impatient for the drips off her spoon.

This is the moment I realize, I need to know what I believe.

My parents were straightforward in admitting they didn't know what happens when we die. As a child, I probably lost a solid year of sleep, pondering that enormous mystery. Bone still under the covers, I lay awake, picturing my future of eternal nothingness and wracked by the tragedy of no more me.

The subject still haunts me. I'd like Maya's attitude to be slightly healthier. This is what I bring to composing an answer to her question about the cat.

After a weighty pause, I tell my daughter that Martin, the cat, is out in the field. I tell her that when animals, including people, die, they're usually put into the ground and that their bodies become the grasses, flowers and trees.

I pass my hand over Maya's blond curls, gently touch a rosy cheek and check her reaction. She appears untroubled. She seems thrilled by the thought of becoming a flower.

I am stunned. In this exchange, I actually realize what I believe, as if so many fragments from my life -- camping trips and nature walks, pangs of sympathy, awe toward the crashing sea and towering skyscraper, love, science class, motherhood -- have suddenly converged into one unified conviction. Not that I am destined for plant fertilizer but that there is more to life than my life. I am not the lonely human plunked down on earth to aimlessly wander. I am a part of that earth and not going anywhere. Just like the spider up in the corner, the dust on the sill, and the cat I buried in the back yard.

I watch Maya mull things over while she munches her Cheerios. I feel an unfamiliar calm. I feel connected. I am humbled and what's more, happy. Life, death, both are all around me within my every breath.

Later, I reach for my daughter's hand and we muddy our shoes with a springtime walk. Together, we see new leaves glowing against the sun, green hillsides shimmering with the breeze, the bright purple bursts of lupine, and it's okay if there's nothing beyond this because there is this. Life everlasting in the bloom of every flower.

Mr. ALLISON: Jamaica Ritcher, with her essay for This I Believe.

Maya is older now and in confronting more deaths of friends and family is less enchanted with her mother's explanation, complaining, I don't want to be a tree. Her mother continues to tell her, however, We are part of something bigger.

If you are interested in submitted an essay to our series as Ritcher did, we hope you'll visit our website, npr.org, where you can see and hear all the essays in the series along with many from the 1950s and suggestions for writing your own.

You may also call for information: 202-40-0300. For This I Believe, I'm Jay Allison.

BRAND: This I Believe is independently produced by Dan Gitteman with Vicky Merrick and John Gregory.

More coming up on DAY TO DAY from NPR News.

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