9 days ago I turned 19. I haven’t celebrated my birthday with a party since I was probably 10. My mom and dad have been asking me what I want for my birthday for years, but just like at Christmas time, I still have no idea. Typically it’s two dinners and two cakes, one with each parent. I don’t even remember what I get, though I tend to get some money. While that’s a useful gift, I’ve said many times before why I don’t like getting money as a gift. Regardless, I asked my dad what he did for his 19th birthday. Because I don’t remember which was which, he told me that for one of them he went to Puerto Rico with his girlfriend and the other he had a large party in another city with all his friends. That was in 1979/1980. Maybe times have changed, but that kind of thing seems crazy to me. My birthdays have been very tame and unexciting for years, but my dad was having adventures on his birthdays.
This time of year is also graduation time. It scares me to think that the people one year younger than me, who I spent years of my life with in high school, are now graduating. Even worse is the thought of what’s happened with me since my graduation and what I’ve done with my life. Graduation seems like such a big deal, and it is, but it changes everything. I didn’t talk to 95% of my classmates, but now I barely talk to more than a handful of them on a regular basis. I thought that maybe being back from college would mean something to my friends younger than me, but their lives went on. I’m not asking for praise, but it might be nice to see some of them again so we could at least pretend our friendship meant anything. But yesterday was the graduation. It’s over for them. They’ve joined me in the “real world” and I can’t even tell them what it’s like, not that it would matter much.
Aside from that pessimism, both those situations have been making me extremely retrospective. I am cursed with a mind that never sleeps and must analyze everything and anything, especially things I don’t want to think about. Sometimes it’s about friends I’ve lost along the way, sometimes it’s guilt about the way I behaved twelve years ago, sometimes it’s about what my life stands for and where I’m going and the nature of life and death or the meaning of happiness. All that and more. But lets focus on the last bit for a moment, the part about life, death, and happiness. I’m constantly debating myself over the purpose of life and reasoning with myself one way or another. It’s remarkable that of all the billions of people who’ve ever lived, I’m me. It seems like nonsense, but I exist, which is remarkable. I’ve spent more time not existing than existing. Why am I me and not my mom? I don’t know how to explain it, but I think about why whatever “I” am was put into this body. Why do experience life through this body instead of someone else’s? I can’t even ask the right questions because I can’t comprehend it. People existed long before me and will continue to exist long after me. The thought though of ceasing to exist both intrigues and terrifies me. I think of life and death as a river with a waterfall at the end. We’re all floating down the river until one day we reach the waterfall and we fall over it. We can’t escape it and every single person has to take that fall. What comes next though? What is heaven like? Is heaven real? Is hell real? What is nothingness like? I can’t begin to comprehend nonexistence.
Those are the thoughts that keep me up at night which I try to avoid at all costs because they scare me. But with those thoughts in mind, I’m finally lead to the main point of this post, which is what makes a life meaningful. What does it take to live a good life, or one with impact? What do we leave behind? I’ve been incessantly watching Game of Thrones for just over a week and it has been incredible. There’s so much to talk about it from favorite characters to plot lines and deeper meanings like the messages about politics, religion, morality, pleasure, gender, and so many more. One of the most interesting things that I remember being said was said by someone named Tywin Lannister. He’s the head of the Lannister family with three children: Cersei, Jaime, and Tyrion. Cersei was the queen, but the crown passed to her children, who are born out of an incestuous relationship with her brother Jaime. In a discussion between Jaime and Tywin, Tywin says this:
“Your mother’s dead. Before long I’ll be dead, and you and your brother and your sister and all of her children, all of us dead, all of us rotting underground. It’s the family name that lives on. It’s all that lives on. Not your personal glory, not your honor… but family. You understand?”
All these things that people deem important are temporary. Why do we care about things that literally cannot last? Why do we care about the way our body looks or the things people say about us or which school we go to? We will all die and every ounce of self-improvement or degradation will mean nothing. And yet it was in Angel that Angel said, “If nothing we do matters, then all that matters is what we do.” That is to say that if there is no cosmic reward or punishment for our actions, no deeper meaning, then the only meaning, the only thing that matters is our actions. Two interesting thoughts, no?
What do we pour ourselves into? What do we deem important? Many people, myself included sometimes, are only after one thing in this life: happiness. If we aren’t happy, then our life is a waste. We find happiness in so many things and so few at the same time. What makes one person happy makes another feel nothing. I’ve been told to do what makes me happy and that’s the only thing I can do; that’s all I’m here to do. But happiness is fleeting. It’s an emotion and it can’t be around forever. And then we run into the dilemma of what if what makes me happy is harmful to somebody else or comes at the cost of somebody else’s happiness? Who decides these things anyway? I won’t argue that point, but I do want to talk about simply chasing happiness.
Frequently before going to bed I walk through the house (for one reason for another) and I see things that make me really sad. None of these things should make me sad, but they do. I see the dishes in the sink that haven’t been done and think of my mom who will probably end up doing them, but was too tired to do them. I see my mom’s phone and I think of all the time she spends playing Candy Crush and think about how that doesn’t do anything constructive; it’s a waste of time and something she does to cope with stress. I see the bag of cotton candy my brother got my sister for her birthday that she hasn’t eaten because she doesn’t like it much, but it was a gift given with pure intentions. I see all the old clothes and toys in the basement that haven’t been used in years, but for some reason we still have them. I think of how we want things that only bring us happiness for a time before they end up doing nothing for us. And then thinking about all those kinds of things makes me question myself. I spend entire days watching Game of Thrones, 30 Rock, Angel, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, or playing video games or whatever it is. I don’t have a job, but then I think why get one? So I can spend hours of ultimately pointless work earning pointless money so I can buy myself pointless things and support my pointless life? I start surrendering to these ideas that nothing matters. I’m going to die, so why should I care about having the phone or the car or paying for that car or anything else in this world? I’m ashamed to say that the following thought crossed my mind: “Having children is just condemning them to death.” Bringing a life into this world is condemning someone to death in all technicality, and then I head to reassure myself that it also means that you’re offering them a chance to live. I hate these thoughts in my head and I hate these questions of what’s meaningful in life because I end up ashamed of myself, my choices, an my interests. I end up ashamed of those I love because of what they fill their lives with, and then I feel ashamed again because I have no right to be ashamed of them for being themselves. It’s an endless cycle of shame and sometimes I just wish that I hadn’t been brought into this world to think these things.
I don’t know what to do. I don’t know what is meaningful. The world at first tells me that my health is meaningful and I should be more active and eat better, but then I think that the body is going to fade, why bother, especially if it brings me no happiness? What makes playing sports more worthwhile than playing video games, or reading books more worthwhile than watching TV? I don’t know. In fact, I don’t believe one is more worthwhile than the other. TV can be just as enriching as a book if you consider them both as literature and artistic. Ultimately I want to live a life that is worth living. I don’t want to feel like I’ve wasted a gift like I feel I have so far. I don’t know what changes to make. I’ve been taught in church that living a selfless life for God is the only thing that can bring true fulfillment and everlasting happiness and life. I think about that every time one of these thoughts come into my head, and it just gets me more confused. I’m struggling with this and don’t know who I can talk to about it. I already know what lots of people will say, but I want to hear something I haven’t already heard. I want to hear something that isn’t one-sided. To tell the truth, I still don’t know what I want to hear, I just know I’m not hearing anything so far.