Sometimes a lot can be said in a short time. It all depends on how honest and direct the conversing is.
With Russell, a Tai Chi friend who I hadn't seen for quite a while after he stopped coming to classes, we covered a lot of philosophical ground in a few minutes after we ran into each other in a downtown Salem coffeehouse.
He was chatting with the barista when I walked up to the counter to order. Russell greeted me in his usual wonderfully friendly manner.
I told the barista, "I know Russell from Tai Chi. He's the only person I know who says Blessings to me when we part. Kind of cool, since I'm an atheist."
Russell smiled. He said, "I'm an agnostic now myself. Yes, I was a devout Christian for a long time. But now I don't know what to believe about God."
Then he added, "I read part of your Return to the One book. Do you still believe that some part of us continues on after death, whether this be soul or something else?" I recalled that I'd given Russell a copy, since he and I shared an interest in cosmic philosophical concerns.
"No," I told Russell.
"Well, let me clarify that. To me it's a matter of probabilities. What is the chance that, after I die, I'll live on in some form? Very small, the way I see it. But, hey, I'll be pleased to be surprised after my demise if my consciousness survives bodily disintegration. It'll be a pleasant Oops! I was wrong!"
Then we chatted about other Meaning of LIfe stuff. I had to go to a protest rally in a few minutes; someone was waiting for Russell at a table in the corner. Whatever I wanted to say, I needed to say quickly.
"You know, Russell, the older I get, the more I think about last times. I used to believe that I'd have another chance at life, either through reincarnation or living on in a non-bodily form. Now, I don't. So this life I'm living now has come to seem way more precious."
"Infinitely precious, in a sense," I said. "What is the worth of every moment, since it won't ever happen again, and my moments are numbered? Sometimes I'm just dumbstruck by the fact that I'm alive... and one day I won't be."
"Further, increasingly I have the realization that with every thing I do, there will be a last time. A last time I mow our grass. A last time I hug my wife. A last time I talk with you, Russell."
"Thing is, likely I won't know when the last time is. I'll think that there will other mowings, other hugs, other talks. Yet eventually there won't be. So shouldn't I treat every time as the last time? That makes sense to me, even though I can't be so mindful as to do it as often as I'd like."
At this point Russell and I both needed to head off to what we were planning to do before we saw each other at the coffeehouse. I wish we'd had more time to talk.
Russell is one of those "gentle souls" who make the world a better place. He may have meanness and negativity within him; I've never seen any sign of such, though. He was a nice guy when he was a devout Christian. He's a nice agnostic guy now.
Which goes to show that what matters isn't someone's professed religion. it's what sort of person they are deep down, with or without a shallow covering of religiosity.