"To help the reviewers get to know you, describe an experience you have had, a person who has influenced you, or an obstacle you have overcome. Explain why this is meaningful to you."
I do not think I have ever fully believed in the God of the Bible or the concept of an afterlife. Even as a very young child, I demonstrated that I had the mind of a skeptic; one of the first questions I asked my mother was how one could be sure Heaven existed if it were impossible to communicate with the dead. Such questions always garnered vague responses about how faith involved believing unconditionally, without proof. This concept has never made any sense to me, and I was never fully satisfied with these answers, but I told myself that I believed nonetheless. After all, I had grown up having the idea drilled into me every Sunday that nonbelievers end up in Hell, a fate I was not especially keen on facing. This fear of Hell stifled my reasoning and limited my intellectual and moral development for years. Then came the night I let my thoughts in.
It was a night much like any other; I lay in my bed (which consisted, as it still does, of a mattress on the floor of my bedroom) trying to shut my mind off so that I could fall asleep. The room was painted and carpeted dark blue all around, and I could make out little save for the faintly glowing stickers on the ceiling directly above me, arranged in the shape of the Big Dipper. Silence dominated the room, disturbed only by my own occasional shifting beneath the sheets.
Every night, in this black silence, I would begin to think. I would think about school, about films, about games, about all manner of things that did not require much deep thought. But almost invariably, my thoughts would drift toward religion. I could not tell you all of the places my stream of consciousness took me this particular night, only that it eventually reached the ocean where all of my streams seemed to converge. As per usual, when my thoughts reached this point, I tried to shut my mind down. I slammed my cottony pillow over my head and squeezed, trying to smother the thoughts out of my mind. I thought as hard as I could about nothing at all, painted emptiness in my head, tried desperately to keep the thoughts out.
But tonight, I realized something. I had always assumed that as I got older and wiser I would understand how the adults around me found such assured faith in Christ. I now saw that I was only drifting farther from faith, finding it even more difficult to comprehend. So I did something I had never done before: I relented. I let the thoughts in, and I let myself soak them up. As I did so, the mental walls I had spent so long building up all came crashing down in spectacular fashion. I no longer feared Hell, because for the first time in my life I could see clearly that I did not believe it existed. I was the master of my own mind. I was finally free... Free to think.
Whenever I think of the defining moments in my life, this night consistently comes out on top for the simple reason that no other event has had such a lasting and profound effect on who I am. It is the night I became an atheist, but it is so much more than that. I will always regard this night as the one I began to think independently. No longer bound by the laws and concepts of the religion I had been indoctrinated with from birth, I found new meaning in life. I was no longer some being placed on Earth so that I could one day ascend to a world which made this one seem pointless in comparison. Instead, I had the right-and therefore the responsibility-to decide what being alive meant to me, and what I wanted to do with my time here. Gone was any semblance of moralistic dogma; in its place was a new love for deep thought focused toward, among other things, the development of my own system of morality. I consider myself a far more moral person today than I was five years ago; it is easy to ignore prescribed morals, but when you understand the reasoning behind every one of the morals you hold, breaking one becomes a much more serious matter, a betrayal of yourself.
That night, to me, will always represent the beginning of my personal journey to who I am today and toward who I will ultimately become. Perhaps no truer statement has been uttered than that by René Descartes: "I think, therefore I am." Without thought, we do not truly exist; we are nothing but drones. The night I let my thoughts in is the night I learned to think; it is the night I learned to be.