What’s the meaning of life, sage reader? Why are we here? Why are we important? Or are we important at all? It’s not a test, of course. I don’t know either, obviously. I’m just a guy. But I can’t help but think about it sometimes…
A class I took in college actually touched on this a bit.
And of all the lectures and discussions in that class – most of which I spent drawing, zoning out, or back at my apartment napping - one remains with me today. A light bulb of sorts went off in my mind, like what must happen to God when he thinks of something clever…
I think we were discussing Being and Time by Martin Heidegger (good luck reading that shit), and the professor said something which I had definitely heard before.
I’m sure we’ve all heard it before.
It was the idea that if life were represented graphically – if a line were drawn on a board, infinite and forever – that each point on that line would be meaningless and indistinguishable from any other. But if one were to suddenly stop that line randomly – to cut it off at any location – then every point which preceded that division back to the start of the line would at once be made infinitely important.
It’s the idea that every moment in life is immeasurably valuable because life is finite, and that because life is finite, because we are mortal and each moment is a moment closer to our death, each moment is actually more valuable than every that came before it.
It’s the idea that every day of our lives is in fact more precious, because it is one less of the few we will ever have left.
It makes sense. It seems logical.
But I didn’t agree with it at all.
To me, it seemed the opposite was true…
Life is meaningless because life is finite.
Remember…then I was a different person. It was before my worst depression, but I was still a sad and sorry dude, not someone who saw much positivity in the world. It makes sense I would think so “negatively”. But even today, where I am – in many ways – the opposite in outlook and beliefs to where I was then, the idea that that lecture was wrong stays with me, and helps me see each day as I need to see it in order to make of it what I want.
Let me explain…
What the professor said that day…
…seems logical enough.
He views life in economic terms, in relation to supply and demand, value and commodity. He used our general fear of death to impart on us the importance of every moment; that each minute wasted is a step closer to the death we wish we could avoid, and thus a thing to be cherished.
But I immediately thought of the ground on which my desk and chair stood – of the billions and billions of people now below that ground rather than above it.
What exactly is left of all those billions of human beings who ever lived; of all those so fortunate enough to have graced this beautiful earth – the men and women, the young and old, the rich and poor, the good and bad?
In almost every case – essentially every case – there remains neither a bone nor an artifact; not a memory nor a name.
Nothing. Nothing remains.
And what of the trillions of days they lived, of all they accomplished and strived for, of all they learned and mastered, of all their joys and tears, their fears and insecurities, of everything they spent their whole lives worrying about and waiting for?
Nothing. Nothing remains.
And what do they have to show for the struggle that was their life, for their greatest accomplishments, and most epic failures? What trophy or reward; what token or prize? What proof of their existence at all - anything to validate what to them was the most difficult thing in this world – their life?
Nothing. Nothing remains.
I guarantee you now there was a man who lived in China 10,000 years ago who struggled and worried, who feared and bled, who surely existed. What remains of his story, his life; the one he guarded so closely and protected so preciously?
And likewise there was a man in Syria 100,000 years ago, who acquired great lands and treasures, who led men to their deaths, and horded riches for himself. What remains of his story, his life; the great wealth he horded and the crimes he committed?
Nothing. Nothing remains.
It’s as if they never existed at all.
Billions of people. Nameless. Storyless. Meaningless.
These were men, women, and children who thought their lives were the worst lives, their problems the worst problems, their struggles the most difficult struggles. Others thought they were the most special person, a worthy person, even a divine person.
Imagine how many of these people you could strike from history with no effect at all on what has become of the world.
A billion here. A billion there.
What little difference it would make, really. What little difference they themselves made.
These people’s lives…
…were certainly finite. But I have a very hard time believing their lives were in any special way meaningful; that their lives were “infinitely important” simply because they ended.
Because when you step back thousands of years at a time, and look upon all those countless people who lived, struggled, and died on this earth, who appeared and disappeared in the blink of a cosmic eye, the comings and goings of any particular person or group of people seem to me as the comings and goings of the smallest germ colonies in the farthest jungles surely seem to you – completely and utterly meaningless, and entirely irrelevant.
Sure, those men – in China and Syria – mattered to someone, but those someones too are gone and forgotten. Of what grand importance were any of them, really?
They lived tough lives; ones they believed held meaning, and so they toiled and sweated, and planned and worried, to have food to buy for another day, or a roof to sleep under another night, or a goat or mule to pass down to another son.
And it’s that that caused them such great stress? That?
Some crumbs for dinner, or a thatched roof for a nap? Some bill to pay, or love they lost? All of which are gone by the way. All of which added no great value to their lives, or numbers to their days.
They struggled and worried and cried for nothing. They stressed and depressed and killed for nothing. Their lives had no meaning. Not a purpose, not a plan. Not a reason, nor a cause.
Their “problems” were not problems, and their obstacles were not obstacles…except in their minds.
That they existed at all is entirely irrelevant to us, here and now.
And so too will we be irrelevant one day.
But what if life were infinite?
What if we were born and lived immortal? What then?
In a life which never ends, imagine now the importance of every day. Imagine its effect on the rest of our life through the eternity of time; how permanent our decisions would suddenly become.
Yes, our days would be limitless, and thus, in economic terms “valueless”.
But they would not be without meaning.
No. They would finally have true meaning. They would have potential. Not just because they may improve us today, but because they may improve us forever.
Here, in our mortal and limited lives, the very best we can ever achieve is always temporary. It can be nothing else.
But in an immortal life, think how important we ourselves would become to ourselves.
Think how important it would be that we surround ourselves with quality people and treat others kindly, for we would have to live with them forever; that we work only in whatever endeavors make us happy, for we would have to toil in them forever; that we learn to be happy at all, for we would have to live with ourselves forever.
Forever is a long time. And though forever to be happy would be indeed heaven, forever to suffer would surely be unbearable.
But if that fate stood before you – if you faced the choice of eternity as you are or eternity as you could be – I am sure you would do as you needed to do to become the person you wanted to be.
You wouldn’t tolerate the abusive relationship, nor the mind-numbing job. You wouldn’t tolerate your negative thoughts, or your fruitless beliefs. You wouldn’t tolerate wars with friends, with family, with neighbors or nations.
You wouldn’t tolerate the battle you now wage everyday within your Self – the shit that angers you, that saddens you, that depresses you.
We would have every reason to change, every reason to become as we imagine ourselves to be.
But the reality is, we are not immortal. Maybe that’s news to some.
We are born and we do die. And in between most do nothing of note, and nothing of any great importance. We’re too busy feeling sorry for ourselves; too busy worrying about what tomorrow will bring: the loss of a job, a relationship, our security, our lives; too busy stressing out over an exam or an interview, the bully or the popular kids, our appearance or our reputation.
We devote our every thought, and the sum of our energies, to the “great, great” problems of our small, small lives.
But so did all those people before us.
Do you think they would do things differently, if they had that chance?
Do you think they’d live? Do you think they’d care?
That life is limited and finite…
…that it holds no real reason or meaning, does not mean it is not worth living, that it’s not worth trying, that it’s not worth enjoying.
For we are here already, and will continue to be until whatever time God or nature determines we ought not to be.
Till then – till our deaths – we are here. We’re here anyway. We’re here because – in some weird way – we’re meant to be here.
And so, by whatever luck, we have days left to live.
And in that class on that day, the seeds of a very important lesson were sowed…that to live the rest of my days, as I had lived the many days before that day – as a sad and sorry kid, weak of mind and body, and scared of most everything – seemed, well…stupid.
Cause whatever the meaning of life, of this much I was certain…
That on that day, and on this day, I stand above that ground rather than lay below it.
And that’s not a thing to waste.
And everything that scared me, and everything that worried me – some test, some cute girl, some misfortune or future I had no control over – all of it meant nothing.
So, fuck that.
It was time to be free.
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