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and then everything will be dust
One night when we were kids, my sibling and I snuck out of the house to watch the stars on the roof. We climbed a rusty ladder to the top and sat side by side. The view at the top wasn't even that impressive. We lived in a suburban town outside of Baltimore, where the city's light pollution was still visible. But we could still see a couple stars, and I stared at them in awe, shivering in the night with my arms wrapped around my cardigan. The universe looked so vast. Boundless.
I don't even remember how old I was. That memory occupies a space seemingly separate from the chronology of my life, untouchable by the clean string of narratives that explain our existence. But I find myself lying alone in bed sometimes, with one hand outstretched towards the ceiling as if I could touch the stars from that night.
I think a lot about how small we all are, and find myself going back to this excerpt from Pale Blue Dot.
"Look again at that dot. That's here. That's home. That's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every "superstar," every "supreme leader," every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there—on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam." – Carl Sagan (Pale Blue Dot)
I had a conversation with a friend a few months ago, and he asked me, "That doesn't make your skin crawl? The thought that you're insignificant in the universe?" I hesitated as I thought about it, and said no. But it used to.
When I was younger, I was obsessed with changing the world and leaving a legacy. Deep down, I knew how insignificant my existence was, and I was desperate to leave some trace of myself. To exclaim to the world: "YES! I LIVED!"
But I knew deep down that everything I could possibly create will disappear. We were made from cosmic dust, and to it we will return. You see, we were all together during the Big Bang and we've been trying to return to each other ever since. We just miss each other.
Assuming we don't figure out how to upload our consciousness in this generation, everyone living right now will die someday. Nature will pluck us slowly and mercilessly, like leaves falling in autumn. Fungi will break our bodies down and recycle us into some vegetal creation to feed the next generation. Even if we survive our current existential threats of AI and climate change—let's say we figure out how to live indefinitely, if we don't become an interplanetary species then Earth will probably get swallowed by the sun in about 7 billion years. And even if we do—much, much later, the Big Crunch will squeeze us together in one grand, final hug. One day we'll come together again, only to realize we were never really apart. But in the meantime, in this brief span of biological life, we will witness innumerable cycles of life and death.
Nothing I do will matter or last.
Yet I wonder what's inside a black hole. How the rain feels in Brooklyn on a summer night. What color the sky will be at sunset, and how the light will feel on my face. The shape of water as it trails behind my brushing fingertips. What texture my calligraphy strokes will take on today.
Yet I live earnestly, building the most beautiful sandcastles I can, knowing they will be washed away. And getting others on the beach to build with me, at times even suspending our belief of the fact that it will disappear; letting ourselves be fooled for a moment that it will last.
"A rich culture takes time, commitment, and self-discipline—and possibly delusion." – Paolo Soleri (Conversations with Paolo Soleri)
Just as the seasons come and go, and flowers unabashedly bloom despite the fact their petals will be stripped in a few weeks time. Then is then, and now is now.
The nihilist probably doesn't build any sandcastles. They leave the beach and drown themselves, or sit grumpily in the car. But I want to have fun now and play.
"If this moment was all there was, would you be okay with that?" I spontaneously ask myself this these days, and more and more the answer comes back a yes. Not a prerecorded yes like reading something from a database, but a resounding yes that sounds when you strike a drum from deep within. I'm gazing deeply into reality, and letting it know I'm here for it. Offering it flowers. Letting it take my hand to drag me in, until I fall infinitely far and I'm not anywhere, only in transition. In being.
You're on a date with the now. So let yourself fall deeply in love with it, despite its bottomless nature and the futility of life.
So what do we do, in between, besides eating oysters for dinner, and going for walks, and taking trains or flights...and melting our eyes in the next horizon. This is a way of not giving up." – Etel Adnan (Shifting the Silence)