And thou art after the order of him who was without beginning of days or end of years, from all eternity to all eternity. —Moses 6:67
Therefore, eternity was our covering and our rock and our salvation . . . . —Abraham 2:16
I didn’t realize that apeirophobia had a name until my husband forwarded this Atlantic video my way last month, with the comment, “This seems important.”
He had a feeling it would be powerful for me to know that I am not alone in my inexplicable fear of immortality; he was privy to my occasional eternity-related panic attacks during our first year of marriage, a particularly trying time for my neurosis considering how often a young married newlywed is reminded of eternal blessings and perspectives.
David was right—this Atlantic piece has been important to me. Hearing testimonies from those who “get” this strange, immobilizing fear that so few people seem to understand has brought me a relief like that of when I learned the word for sleep paralysis, a thing I had experienced many times throughout my life and had always assumed were attempted demonic possessions. As it turns out, it was just interrupted REM sleep.
Like the people in the video, thinking about eternity has a physical effect on me. If it strikes me, I bolt upright, I can’t stay sitting. I pace with desperation, like maybe I can outrun the unwelcome thought that entered my head; I put my hands against walls, breathless, trying to stay in the room, in my head, in some form of sanity. Sometimes the fear hits me when I am trying to explain the fear to others. When this happens, it’s embarrassing and I am apologetic. I want to say, “I know that eternity clearly has a very different effect on me than on you. I’m sorry.” I want to tell them I’m not faking. I guess a lot of fears and anxieties are like this: real to you but hard for others to understand.
Behold and lo, mine eyes are upon you, and the heavens and the earth are in mine hands, and the riches of eternity are mine to give. —D&C 67:2
And if ye seek riches which it is the will of the Father to give unto you, ye shall be the richest of all people, for ye shall have the riches of eternity. —D&C 38:39
I remember sitting in Primary as a kid, sweaty hands in my lap, playing with the folds of my Sunday dress, trying to focus on my breathing. “Don’t you want to live with your family forever and ever?” My parents are not sealed in the temple, so this was already a triggering lesson for me. My view of eternity was always black and empty, like a hole or the lengthy expanses of nothingness in outer space. I feared death because I knew that, unless I could convince my father of thetruthfulnessofthegospel, my family would be lost in the swirling eddies of nebulous star clusters and space clouds I had seen pictures of in Encyclopedia Britannica’s The Young Children’s Encyclopedia.
“Jesus has promised us eternal life if we keep his commandments.” I used to bite the insides of my cheeks, tapping my feet against the floor, trying to keep myself from getting sucked into the vacuum of fear that swallowed me up when I considered what it meant to have no end, to live forever. It felt like falling. It felt like that dream when you fall off a bike but suddenly find yourself miles and miles in the sky, plummeting down and down but never crashing. A schoolyard friend told me once that people have died from hitting the earth in a falling dream, though I never asked her how that claim could be substantiated. For me, the endless plummeting is worse. When I have falling dreams, I crave a crash, but it’s never happened yet. I jolt awake still feeling like I’m endlessly falling.
We ask thee, Holy Father, to establish the people that shall worship, and honorably hold a name and standing in this thy house, to all generations and for eternity. —D&C 109:24
“Now look in the mirrors over the altar and you will see your own eternal lives and progeny, begun at this moment in your sacred matrimony.” I knew the moment was coming because the Celestial Room mirror trick is a favorite of temple open house guides, and because I had performed proxy family sealings for the dead as a returned missionary. A wall of mirrors reflect another wall of mirrors on the opposite side of the room just so, so you can see not only your own reflection, but a neverending number of them—a trick I used to play with my parents’ three-way mirror growing up, until my stomach started to hurt from looking at so many unending clones of myself.
On the day I married David “for time and all eternity,” I clutched him close during the mirrors part. I knew I loved David more than any being I had yet met in life, because I told him, seriously, that I thought I could stand eternity if I was really able to spend it with him. When I looked in the mirrors, I tried to ignore the eternal repetition of our images and focus on our closest reflections: the reflections of us, right now, right then, in that moment.
From eternity to eternity he is the same, and his years never fail. —D&C 76:4
My favorite film growing up was What About Bob? and I continue to be in love with Bill Murray for providing me respite from my worrying when the worry dolls and the worry stones that my sweet mother had purchased for me didn’t work (I can still remember the rubbed-rawness of my thumb against the smooth scoop in the crystal rock that was supposed to carry my worries for me; I can still remember telling my poor mom in panicked, short breaths, “It isn’t working—it isn’t working—my worries are still there”). My favorite scene is the sleepover with young Siggy, and Siggy, in total non-comical seriousness asks: “Are you afraid of death?” and then: “There’s no way out of it. You are going to die. I’m going to die. It’s going to happen. And what difference does it make if it’s tomorrow or eighty years?”
Whenever I watched this scene as a kid, it felt sacred. It felt more sacred than church most of the time, to be quite honest. It poked me right where it hurt, only Siggy’s words would reverberate inside me invertedly: “Are you afraid of eternity?” and then: “There’s no way out of it. You are going to live forever. I’m going to live forever. It’s going to happen. And what difference does it make if forever lasts four thousand years or a hundred trillion years—it never will end. I will never end. There is no end.”
Bill Murray deserves serious credit for the soft, endearing, goofy acting of his eyes in this scene. There was something about Bob Wiley being able to empathize with worrying—even worries that nobody else ever worries about—that enabled me to be distracted from eternity by sharing his company.
Thus saith the Lord your God, even Jesus Christ, the Great I Am, Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end, the same which looked upon the wide expanse of eternity, and all the seraphic hosts of heaven, before the world was made. —D&C 38:1
This isn’t to say that I am not afraid of nihilism, too, which is still eternity, just a non-conscious one. My father tried to comfort me some nights, when I was young, and rambling to him through tears about how I didn’t want to “live forever (and ever and ever and ever and ever),” and he would tell me that heaven was just a place they tell old women about to make them feel better about dying. I let this sit in my mind for a moment, but an eternity of nothingness didn’t seem like an appealing alternative. Later that same week I watched some obscure Muppet movie with a witch in it that only woke every four hundred years or so. I thought maybe that would work as a useful compromise—maybe God would let me wake up once every four hundred years to break up eternity a bit? But the thought didn’t resolve the ache and twist of my stomach, like the wringing of a washcloth.
. . . and his heart swelled wide as eternity; and his bowels yearned; and all eternity shook. —Moses 7:41
The worst part is that I don’t want to be afraid of eternity. I want to desire it. I want an endless amount of days to love my family and friends and people. I never want to stop learning and adventuring and growing. I want to be like our own universe—fathomless and mysterious, endlessly growing with ever more space beyond the space it currently inhabits, expanding and multiplying and exploding with diverse lights and creativity and movement. I want to believe that Christ broke the bands of death, and I want to believe that He can teach me to embrace eternal life, that he can excise my fear completely, that I remember my fear no more.
And ye cannot bear all things now; nevertheless, be of good cheer, for I will lead you along. The kingdom of yours and the blessings thereof are yours, and the riches of eternity are yours. —D&C 78:18
When I was eight months pregnant with my first child, my back ached so terribly that David bought me a thirty-minute session at a local sensory deprivation chamber, bless his good intentions. The chamber was shaped like an egg, smooth and white. Naked and very pregnant, I hoisted myself into the lukewarm salt water and closed the hatch to the chamber. It was roomy enough, and not too claustrophobic. The inside of the chamber glowed a soft blue until I flicked the switch to turn off the light. True to description, I didn’t feel the sides of the chamber or the water I floated in. It felt like I had been transported to the depths of outer space. I couldn’t tell if I was floating in one place still inside the egg chamber or if I had been somehow transported or twinkled away to a different dimension or universe—I suddenly feared I was propelling endlessly through a starless night, that pit growing in my stomach like when you are a kid sleeping on a trampoline suddenly considering what would happen if gravity decided to stop and you were pulled straight up into the infinite black sky above you. I felt like I was in the bowels of Dreadful Eternity.
I gasped a bit, tried to talk aloud to myself, reassure myself that all was well. In that moment of terror, I was called back to the moment in the Real when I felt my baby come alive inside me. I lay still and relaxed, letting my unborn child roll and prod and explore within me. The chamber suddenly felt less like boundless space and more like a womb. I tried to feel what my baby might be feeling, placing my hands where she was pushing, so she would know she wasn’t alone in this vast universe either. My fear left me as I transferred my attention onto this small, curious person sharing my space.
I don’t know if I will always be afraid of eternal life. Perhaps there are crosses some of us continue to bear even after death, should an afterlife indeed exist. But the longer I am alive on earth, the more convinced I seem to be that even as awful and gutting and horrible and sickening the prospect of never ever ending seems to me to be, it is a cross I am more willing to bear if I get to share this inexhaustible store of time with the people who make me wish that time would stop altogether, so that I might never stop holding their hands, hearing them laugh and cry, watching their faces, sharing their spaces.
To close this essay about how nothing ever closes, here are the forever haunting words of William W Phelps:
There is no end to matter;
There is no end to space;
There is no end to spirit;
There is no end to race;
There is no end to virtue;
There is no end to might;
There is no end to wisdom;
There is no end to light;
There is no end to union;
There is no end to youth;
There is no end to priesthood;
There is no end to truth;
There is no end to glory;
There is no end to love;
There is no end to being;
There is no end to being;
There is no end to being;
There is no end to being;
There is no end to being;
There is no end