Grappling with mortality and meaning

I’m not certain what precisely led to my contemplating my death.

Several of my good friends recently lost their fathers.

I was also on an airplane flight, which, all statistics on safety aside, always makes me think of the Grim Reaper.

Whatever the reason, I found myself at 35,000 feet, my eyes closed during the middle of a very full flight, thinking about life and death.

I’m dying.  You’re dying.  We’re all going to die, including all the ones we love.  And after we die, after the grief of our surviving family and friends, most of us will soon be forgotten.

(Ironically, all that will be left of most of us in the “physical” world will be our social media posts, however long Google, Facebook, and Twitter last.)*

In the grand scheme of the universe, all of us are petty and insignificant.  It existed for billions of years before me, and it will likely continue to exist for billions of years after me.  And even during my actual lifetime, the vast majority of human beings will never be aware of my existence; the wider universe beyond our small planet will be completely unaware.

Sobering thoughts, especially when crammed into a Southwest Airlines coach seat.

I wasn’t content to leave my thoughts in this somber place.  I’m a happy person, not an existential philosopher, and I couldn’t bear to walk off that plane in a state of angst!

Here’s what I concluded:

As long as I’m alive, I’m going to keep going until I can’t.  What’s the point of giving in to angst and despair?  How does it help me or anyone else that I care about?

(Not to mention the high cost of black sweaters and cigarettes.)

We get to decide whether this struggle is meaningful or meaningless.  Whether we’re so tiny and insignificant that nothing we does matters, or whether the opportunity to overcome our insignificance and make a dent, however small, against the odds makes it a fight worth fighting.  There’s really no way to prove that one of these approaches is truer than the other, but I can tell you that believing that my life is meaningful seems a whole lot more useful to me.

Since there is no proof, perhaps it is a matter of faith.  If so, I believe in meaning.  I believe in the struggle.  And I believe that however much time we get, we should make the most of it.

* Note that I specifically refer to the physical world.  The question of whether there is a separate spiritual world that does not follow the laws of the physical world is essentially unknowable, so I’ll leave it to you to decide what kind of deity and/or afterlife in which to believe.

P.S. I think it is altogether characteristic that even when writing about death and existential angst, I couldn’t resist making a joke.  I think fun is another one of those ways to bring meaning to our lives!

1 thought on “Grappling with mortality and meaning

  1. Hi Chris, I saw your post on Facebook (I know Richard Yen). Have you read the book of Ecclesiastes in the Old Testament? It was supposedly written by King Solomon, who pondered how life seems meaningless, but it has a good message at the end.

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