The first time I thought about heaven, it terrified me.
I was 4 years old, and my grandfather had just passed away after a drawn-out battle with cancer. My family tried to console me by explaining that he went to a beautiful, calm, and happy place, where he would be united with all his loved ones, forever and ever.
That night, I lay in bed in pitch darkness and tried to grasp what they had told me. But every time I thought I had a grip on eternity, it slipped further away. The largest number of years I could imagine failed to make a dent in infinity. My primitive brain filled with an existential angst. The idea of living forever was even more unsettling than the idea of no longer existing after death.
Woody Allen once said, “Eternity is a very long time, especially toward the end!” Eternity sounds great on the surface, but actually experiencing it may be an entirely different matter. For some people, the very notion of infinity sends chills up the spine. In fact, for many who suffer from “apeirophobia”—a term for the fear of eternity—the thought of an existence that goes on forever amounts to torture.
“I remember the first time it hit me,” writes Kellie, the username of an anonymous commenter on the pop culture website YOMYOMF, which featured a brief story about an actor’s experience with apeirophobia . “I was around 8 years old. Now I’m in my 30s, and the thought of eternity still freaks me out. It usually hits at night when I’m trying to sleep. I’ve learned to push it out of my mind, but sometimes I can’t, and when that happens I start pacing the room and thinking that I might have to go to the emergency room or else I might kill myself.”