Where you come from is gone, where you thought you were going to never was there, and where you are is no good unless you can get away from it. Where is there a place for you to be? No place.
Nothing outside you can give you any place,” he said. “You needn’t look at the sky because it’s not going to open up and show no place behind it. You needn’t to search for any hole in the ground to look through into somewhere else. You can’t go neither forwards nor backwards into your daddy’s time nor your children’s if you have them. In yourself right now is all the place you’ve got. If there was any Fall, look there, if there was any Redemption, look there, and if you expect any Judgment, look there, because they all three will have to be in your time and your body and where in your time and your body can they be?”
― Flannery O’Connor, Wise Blood
I am deep in existential thought this morning. There is so much that hurts about being alive that we have spent considerable evolutionary and cultural time building elaborate defenses against our own minds. We work very hard to protect ourselves from the knowledge of death, suffering, and disappointment but every so often—just before we fall asleep, or perhaps while starting at a particularly beautiful sunset, pair of eyes, or our own reflection in the mirror—we remember what we work so hard to forget. We remember that we are nothing and nowhere after all.
Please, I swear this is not meant to bring you down. I think it’s a good thing for us to remember that for most of us our existence will be good but ordinary. We will have regrets, ou probably does already. We will be sad, somewhere deep down, we all are. You will be scared, and angry, and you will find yourself reacting in the two ways all humans do, quiet acceptance or white-hot rage.
This is how we cope with the knowledge that we are stuck. We cannot fight time or space. We will have only this lifetime, this planet, and this set of circumstances. We will do what we can, sure, that is where our greatest strength lies. We will exert whatever influence we can upon the universe to have some scrap of control over who we are and what life will be for each of us.
We cling to half-truths. Each of us is unique, oh but we are each dreadfully boring ad ordinary too. We can change each change the world, yes, but never all on our own. We can be whatever we want to be, but we have no knowledge of how to be it and so spend most of our time making mistakes and learning again and again that what we thought was our path turns out not to be after all.
So what could be so motivating about that? Well, whenever I remember how short and sad my life will eventually be, on instinct I search for the good. I collect whatever happiness and accomplishment I can find in memory, and I let it fill me for the moment. I hold tight to it in the hope that when it is my time to go I will go with a smile.
Then I immediately remember that once I am dead, it won’t really matter much either way whether I was happy or sad or did what I wanted or didn’t. It may matter to my loved ones, but they will be gone one day too. The miraculous thing about this thought is that instead of sending me into a depression, it feels entirely freeing (usually).
You see, in humanity’s attempt to hold on to the “now” so that we can believe in forever we work hard, so hard, to do a whole lot of things we don’t want to do. There are so many of us who work jobs we hate and live in places we hate because we think we have to. We waste every single day doing a whole lot of things that don’t matter all that much to us, but we have tricked ourselves and each other into believing they do.
So, what does that mean? Not a whole lot to be honest. I’m not calling for a radical revolution. I am not pretending I know how to change your life, hell I don’t even know how to change my own in all the ways I want to. What I do know, what I believe in, and what matters more to me that anything, are those teeny, tiny, changes we can make. They are all we have, all we can ever have, besides lady luck.
This week, I have very little to give you in the way of advice. Facing yourself and the truth of you fragility and inevitable demise is hard and terrifying. So, maybe just really think about what matters. Deep, deep down, past all the things you were taught should matter. What will you cling to? What will make you feel like this life has been a good one? What kind of future do you want for the people who will come after you, who you will never know and will never know you?
There is no right or wrong answer. You may find you just want to make yourself happy and the people who come next ought to worry about themselves. That is entirely valid. You may want money and fame, and you may want something to pass down to your children. You may not even want children. There is nothing wrong with living your life however you want to, just remember time is short. Look around you, this, this, is all you have. You should do what you can to make the most of it! You should try to find what happiness and meaning you can here.
Enjoy your life.
Or don’t, I guess. There is no right answer.
As for me, I try every day to do something small that feels big, that feels like a step, to more of those memories and accomplishments I can cling to. I try to remember why I do it. Not because I want to be rich and famous, that life isn’t for me, but to do nothing more than say “Lisa was here!”. Another illusion I cling to, one where it matters whether I was here or not but one I cannot seem to let go of.
Somewhere deep down I do want to have a small impact on what is to come, even if I will never see it. I want to lessen the pain, in whatever way I can, of a girl, far in the future, who may have the fortune and the bad luck to be born a little like me. I want to believe that people will live lives that make them feel good, or at least a bit more accepting of not just death but of every disturbing and embarrassing aspect of being a fragile human being on a fragile planet at the mercy of dangers, we cannot even fathom.
I want to imagine a future where we understand who we are and what we want to do, together. I want that because of the very few things I believe in one is that we are all we have and we have to start acting like it.
So I work through my ugly truths trying to get at what this little insignificant life means to me. I flash my half-assed answers, my process, my fears and dreams wherever I go hoping that others will face ugly and uncomfortable truths too. I hope in doing so they can find what I have, a sad reality where we are nothing and nowhere but where we can come together and make whatever this “life” thing is something really grand and good.
Featured image via Unsplash