I sat in the COM advising office, talking to my advisor about the various general requirements I had yet to complete. As he went through the last few that I needed to finish, it never dawned on me that one of those random courses would alter my perspective on life.
This isn’t one of those moments where my life was forever changed and a whole new world opened up. Rather, it was a moment that I had realized what I have been doing wrong since I started as a freshman here at Boston University.
Philosophy 110, Great Philosophers as it’s called on the registration form. I thought it would be easy—I was wrong. I thought it would have no benefit to me—I was wrong. I thought that it would be the least of my worries that semester and that I could fly by focusing more of my energy in my communication classes, where my passion really was—as the theme continues, I was wrong.
When someone asked me how my classes were I described myself as being captivated by philosophy. I never realized that argument was such an articulate and intricate part of philosophical framework. Top it off with most of the philosophers we studied being dead, it left us as a class full of students searching to make sense of the arguments, getting stuck in the loopholes, and trying to put ourselves in the shoes of Descartes to figure out what he really meant by, “I think, therefore I am.”
But, as I said. This isn’t going to be about me preaching how important it is to get to know your professors or the best classes are the ones you enjoy. You should know that, it’s all good advice, but what I’m here to tell you is the best classes, the absolute best lessons, are the ones that tell you everything you are doing is wrong.
Existentialism is the study of the meaning of life. What is the purpose of life? What happens after life? All questions that people yearn for the answer to. Albert Camus gave me no clarification on the deep, forever uncertain questions I have, but he gave me a slap of reality that we are asking the wrong questions. First things first, Camus says its essential to acknowledge your own death and until you do so, you will never fully start living. Okay, so great, I’m telling you that we are all going to die, at some point, in some way, we will all die eventually. But, it gets better (slightly more depressing, but indeed better). It gets better in the sense that we are all going to die eventually and to top it off, life is meaningless. Now, before you freak out on me and tell me that there are plenty of things that give your life meaning, let me try to convince you that you too are wrong.
There is an absurdity that Camus found in life. The absurd is evoked when you recognize that eventually you are going to die, but yet you still fight for a meaning of life. In other words, you recognize the ultimate death we are all faced with but yet you continue to take life too seriously. There is a certain futileness and pointlessness to life since eventually we will have worked so hard for it all to be over. To Camus, and now to me, it is absurd, pointless, silly even for us all to be so caught up in the importance of our lives, so concerned to accomplish some greater meaning and worried about our relevance when we are gone, it is all nothing more than absurd.
I warned you…depressing I know. But now I’m going to cheer you back up. You may be asking yourself how then, do you live a life that is not absurd and that is not pointless? The answer is as simple as it seems, embrace the absurdity. To put it more clearly, recognize. Recognize that you are nothing more than a small speck in a huge world and that this world is just one planet in a solar system positioned in a galaxy of infinite worlds and possibilities and possibly infinite galaxies. In all the spans of history and all the life that has yet to come coupled with the vastness of the universe, our own personal lives are completely irrelevant. We are a speck of matter surrounded by infinitely more matter and infinitely more time. However, if we choose to acknowledge that, if we choose to recognize the silliness of taking our lives too seriously, we no longer live in the absurd.
To put it simply, I know my life will result in death, I am aware of it and I know that all this hard work and stress will amount to my death as well. But because I can recognize it, I am not living an absurd life. The problem with most people is that they take themselves and their lives too seriously. It’s unfortunate, really. Because when you begin to take it too seriously you lose the fun, the light heartedness and the ease that life is supposed to have.
I’m most certainly not saying “don’t work hard” or “forget it all, nothing matters,” but what I am say is: when your life feels like it’s too much stress, you’re too overwhelmed, and it doesn’t seem worth it, you have to remind yourself of the bigger picture, that none of this truly matters in the scheme of reality. What matters is that you enjoy it. Allow yourself to recognize the pointlessness and let that be a source of comfort when you take it all too seriously. It’s not the best solution, but I take it to heart to remind myself “Why the heck am I freaking out about this?” or “Why aren’t I just enjoying myself when that is the only thing I truly have control over?”
It’s not the warm and fuzzy answer I was looking for when I pondered the meaning of life. But I appreciate the bluntness and I respect the reality of the theory. We have very little control over our existence, so take the little we have and enjoy it.