Friday, July 25, 2008

What I Know, Part 2

What a beautiful face
I have found in this place
That is circling all round the sun
What a beautiful dream
That could flash on the screen
In a blink of an eye and be gone from me...

And one day we will die
And our ashes will fly from the aeroplane over the sea
But for now we are young
Let us lay in the sun
And count every beautiful thing we can see...

Can't believe how strange it is to be anything at all

Everyone tells stories about themselves and why they exist. Some of these are true: “I am a mother and these are my children.” Some of these aren’t: “I’m going to strike it rich next time I play the lottery, and then I’ll be happy.” Some people insist on a story of the world that places them at the center of all of everything that has ever been: “God made the Earth for the sole purpose of harboring the human race, all of human history has converged on this generation, which is the Last Days, and I am among God’s spiritual elite!”

These stories are where people find this nebulous thing we call “meaning,” which is why some people will insist that it is impossible to have meaning without religion, i.e. their preferred story. However, people derive meaning from their own personal stories about their place among the people closest to them even if they have no religious narrative, and even among the religious there are often stories that are more significant, for example parenthood. Some people care quite a bit about whether or not their stories are true; others believe what they do because it fills a certain place in their lives. I am one of the former: taught from an early age that the Truth (that is, my parents’ religion) was to be the central point of my life, I find that I cannot believe something if I have no reason to think it is true. At the same time, although my relationships are important to me, I have never considered my role in life to be primarily relational, so while it is true that I am a daughter, a sister, a friend, I need a different story to find meaning.

This, then, is the story I tell myself.

The universe is a place much bigger than I am, but I am a part of it. The elements that make up my body existed before my brain organized into a machine capable of thought, and they will exist after I am dead. I used to feel like I needed to Make a Difference in order for life to be worth living. And I still do, to a certain extent; I wish I could be famous and important and significant to other people as much as anyone. But even if I were to die tomorrow without any great achievements to my name, my life wouldn't be worthless, because I am part of the world, and its a beautiful world. And the atoms of my body, which used to be part of stars and dinosaurs and trees, will move on to be parts of other things.

There is no Fate driving events; my existence is contingent on more factors than I can count, none of which had to turn out the way they did. My birth was a zillion-to-one chance, and my existence here today, as myself, is a great stroke of luck. This doesn’t mean that I should settle for mere subsistence as my highest goal, but that I temper my pessimism and grimness with an acknowledgement that it is a joy to be alive. No matter what horrible things are done on earth the stars are still beautiful, and no matter what pain and ugly death I might have to look forward to, the world is still a breathtakingly beautiful place and I am lucky to be a part of this incredibly improbable symphony of life.

I am not a scientist, so I cannot personally prove that this story is true. But this story is falsifiable; I don’t take it on faith, I tell it because it is consistent with all of my knowledge of the world. In my limited experience with life, I have found that the most important thing I can do to make my life better is to face the world exactly as it is. No comforting stories, no inflated sense of self, no groundless hopes OR groundless fears. This is what’s real, and it is enough.

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