My brain is a filing cabinet.
In it, I tuck away all sorts of facts. One could find dates, formulas, and maybe even a word or two of French scattered around and discarded wherever I last tossed them. In the haphazard mess, one could stumble upon the number of white keys on a piano or the exact thickness of a figure skating blade.
For the most part, it’s difficult to navigate, but there are a few things that I like to keep organized.
Marked by grief, awe, and a rich amalgamation of nameless emotions, a single folder contains the knowledge that everyone dies. The seven and-a-half-billion people living on Earth today and the billions of people that have not yet been born will all, at one point or another, stop breathing.
First, we will physically die. Everything in our minds will vanish, from dearly held memories and secrets to the answer of the questions googled only yesterday. Our hearts will no longer pump blood, leaving gallons of the crimson liquid to coagulate within our veins. The eyes that connected us to the world will never open freely again.
Sooner or later, the world will have no connection with us, either. Our names may be archived in yellowed phone books and diaries, but the ink will fade as the spines collect dust. Mourning passersby will walk past our graves without thinking twice, leaving them bare and without flowers to break up the gray. There will be no one alive to possess any recollection of our existence, no heart left to ache in our memory. One will truly cease to exist.
Someday far in the future, the earth itself will grow weary, unable to resist the flames that will swallow it whole. The star we so lovingly claim as our sun will exhaust the hydrogen it depends upon, and a white dwarf will take shape. Everything we know will be no longer, and despite it all, the universe will continue on.
It is no secret that our lives are finite—that no matter what we do, we cannot change the fact that humanity will not survive the test of time.
I was dumbfounded when I first came to this realization. Everything from the wrinkles by my mother’s smiling eyes to the terrifyingly vast oceans would one day be gone. A career that I would eventually work towards would prove meaningless in the long run. What is the point of living if everything I contribute to this world will be gone one day anyway?
For some time after I was first equipped with this awareness, human behavior sickened me. I thought anybody who put even a single ounce of effort into bettering their life was a complete fool, even though I was still a kid myself. What were they so determined to do if they knew it would be erased in the end? How could they be so stupid as to not realize the futility of their struggles?
Before long, I realized that I was the fool.
The fact that humanity exists at all despite being an infinitesimal moment in time is what makes people so wondrous. People do not live in the long run or the big picture. We are wholly incapable of that; our fragile bodies simply cannot take us that far.
We live in our own small worlds, and what we create in these small worlds is all that matters.
There are no predisposed reasons out there for people to do what we do and forge the connections that we make, but we create meaning on our own and do it all anyway.
Amid the bitterness and violence, people wake up to challenge it and love in the face of hatred.
While politicians scream and shout over inevitably catastrophic resolutions, families bicker over whether to buy the crunchy or smooth peanut butter in brightly lit grocery stores.
Some clad themselves in black to mourn those who have perished; others shed tears of wonder and marvel at newly-born life.
As people gather to honor the beginnings and endings of life, others celebrate the in-betweens: the birthdays, the “firsts,” the wishes made on freshly picked dandelions, the extra minutes of sleep—people find value in every nook and cranny of life.
People are born, people die, and in between, we are able to create meaning in our lives. Nothing in the unbounded universe can compete with the beauty found in our small worlds.