Not for Nothing

It came out of nowhere, on my drive to work. I’m not sure what I was thinking about that brought it on. But suddenly, I had this extremely clear understanding of the finality of death. That I will cease to exist. That I will no longer be able to think or learn or be. That I will end and there will be no more consciousness. There will be nothing else. And I won’t even know it. There will be no “I” to know anything.

Here, a few hours later, I feel like I can’t put it into the right words. But my understanding of it was so vivid in that moment, so concrete, it felt like a solid weight in the middle of my chest.

A mixture of dread, panic, and sadness washed over me, a heightened blend of emotions so intense, that once it had flowed through my body, it left me tingling and cold, and I found myself taking large breaths and telling myself to calm down.

I immediately thought about people of belief, those who think that we have an afterlife to look forward to, and I know that is one of the fundamental reasons that religion was invented (along with needing purpose, along with explanation of scientific phenomena that couldn’t be explained at the time). Fear of death is so immense that people need faith as armor against it.

I thought about my atheism, how that doesn’t logically include an afterlife and yet, to alleviate the terror of nothingness, I have always held a belief in “something beyond death” because I refuse to accept that it all just ends. That I will think no more. That I will never see Steve again. That I will be alone and gone and unknowing. I cannot accept it.

I thought about how I am not even remotely the first person to have that kind of moment of realization. I know it must be very human and very common. I pondered how those moments shape people’s philosophies, even subconsciously. Most people turn to faith. For those who don’t, there is a choice: let the unknown turn you apathetic or turn you kind; become a nihilist or a humanist.

It’s easy to understand the temptation of the former. After I watched Cosmos last year, I felt like I could see the big picture of human evolution, anthropology, sociology, science, and theism. My eyes were opened. As a result, nothing else seemed particularly important anymore. The current state of the world, politics, the division of countries and peoples and belief systems – all of that becomes insignificant when viewed through the lens of science and realism. What are countries and peoples anyway? We are all one humanity, floating on a tiny speck in a vast sea.

Indeed, after having all these thoughts on my drive in today, I took one look at the negative news of the world this morning online and thought “it doesn’t matter, it’s not even worth getting riled up.” And it’s not. So, on one hand, this is a positive perspective. It makes me understand that life is far too short, that all the things I stress over, seemingly big and small, out in the world or in my own life, don’t really matter. This is good for my well-being.

On the other hand, it would be easy to take that feeling and run with it in a very negative direction. It would be easy to focus on the idea that, if I can see the big picture, and see how silly all these petty differences are, that everything is meaningless – that life, that people, are meaningless. Anarchy and chaos and living only for oneself is fine because what does it matter.

What does it matter? I don’t know. I don’t believe I will be judged upon my death. I don’t believe that what I do in this lifetime will change what happens to me after, which could be absolutely nothing. But I choose the other path anyway. Because kindness and love and compassion move me. They are the instincts that bring me to tears. They make my heart swell. And somewhere in my gut, in my deepest heart, I know there is a reason for that. Maybe that is my version of faith.

Far too many deep thoughts for so early in the day. After I got to work, all I wanted to do was turn right back around and go home, wrap my arms around Steve, and cherish every single second of every single day we have to spend together in this existence – especially because I have no idea if this is all we have. I hope it isn’t. Either way, I am going to do my very best to stay awake, live the life I want, be fully me and fully present, and love as hard as I can. Because the alternative is not an alternative. All that love can’t be for nothing.

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7 thoughts on “Not for Nothing

  1. All that love can’t be for nothing. I love it. You have and are leaving your mark on the world simply by putting out all this love and positivity. Back when I was very devoutly religious (I have kind of lost my religion these days, idk if we have talked about it), I found absolute terror in the afterlife. We go on FOREVER? For. Ev. ER. It gave me that same feeling of a rock in my chest, deep anxiety and panic. FOREVER IS TOO LONG!! I find much more peace in knowing that someday I will cease to exist and all my pain and worry will too. All that’s left will be how I made people feel. And I think I’m doing ok on that.

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    • I think that’s awesome, Chelsea, that you feel at peace with that. Maybe one day I will feel the same, but for now, I can’t say I agree. I would be willing to live forever. So would Steve. We often say to one another “there will never be enough time.” It’s good, in a way; it keeps us valuing every moment. But it’s also terribly sad. I want to go on forever with him, and I want to go on forever as me. And almost equal to all of that, I want to know what happens in 100 years and 200 years and 500 years when we are traveling the stars and seeing what else is in the universe and discovering new worlds and new truths. It pains me that I won’t be around to see it. Or maybe I will. Maybe we are all in one dimension of existence right now and we will wake up in another. Who knows, right?

      As for your religion – we didn’t talk about it but from a couple of things you said on your tumblr and your FB the past year, I told Steve that i thought you had moved away from that. I hope that has been a positive thing for you! I truly do.

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  2. We are social beings, and construct fine, capable illusions of purpose and meaning. Chaos and anarchy would be a giant drag for our social brains to contend with, so we rationally choose the niceties and small wonders of our personal lives to sustain us.
    As we age, and must contend with others dying and the complications of losing certain once-valuable properties, like youth and endless possibility, so shall we die, and what is so troubling about that? All of these verities are for us to endure, to surmount, to contend with.

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  3. I almost died a number of years back. It does make you check yourself, but I found I do not fear it. It has though made me want top make life matter. Though I do make sacrifices in life. I’m sure if I made some different choices, I’d live a lot more, but at a severe cost. I’ve found balance is needed. take the good with the bad. Some of my life choices since my experience are not the best as I know my life can be taken at any given time, but do I value life with friends, etc., I cherish it.

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    • Thanks for commenting, Robb. I admire you for not fearing death. I cannot say the same; it terrifies me. As I said to Chelsea above, I would be willing to go on forever. I want to keep learning and knowing and thinking. The idea of simply ceasing to be is unbearable. Which is probably why, even in my atheism, I refuse to accept it.

      It’s funny you say you could live better if you made different choices… I think part of what I was trying to convey in my post about meaninglessness is that since I see it all as ending and terrifying, it would be easy to say “fuck it” and live my life in a state of complete nihilism and selfishness, not doing anything to further my physical or emotional health – because what’s the point? But there has to be some point. In my gut, I know there’s a point. I just don’t know exactly what it is yet, at least not an answer that feels complete.

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  4. I don’t see what’s to fear. Living forever would really just be dying in the slowest possible way. You would persist as some logical, or at least expository, consequence of yourself, but not as yourself.
    That’s what’s going on this very moment though, isn’t it? I see no true difference, and we comfortably live in this circumstance every day.

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    • That might be technically true, yes, but the way it currently works gives me far too little time before dying, in my opinion. I’d settle for ten times as long and it probably still wouldn’t feel like enough.

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