Perhaps part of being human is to search for the meaning of life. The sorrow brought about by an elusive resolution to one of life’s perennial mysteries—why are we here? —has long plagued the existence of mankind, inseparable as it is to our mortality and apprehension towards it. Finding ourselves helpless to the unrelenting flow of time and insignificant in the grand scheme of things, we grope in the dark in attempts to justify our existence with a purpose.
When we finally feel our hands on a switch and, thus, illuminate the room, we find a basement, disorderly and filled with things that define our lives. To some, the meaning of life is to accumulate as many possessions as possible. Some take it upon themselves to share what they have found with society and contribute to its flourishing or to create a legacy in their lifetime. Others, however, may consider their existence as something for the man upstairs.
For 20th century novelist Franz Kafka, encapsulating the interrelation of our transience and our quest to define it, “the meaning of life is that it ends.”
The idea of death bearing the essence of life may come across as rather macabre. People tend to shy away from discussions on the matter, possibly because we are often guilty of trifling with what may be the most valuable resource there is in the world—time. Despite the reality of human demise, we carry out our days perfunctorily and color its afternoons insipid, as if tomorrow, to which we delay what is truly worthwhile, is a given.
Going back to Kafka’s words, as with many other ideas, it really depends on your perspective.
A humorous leitmotif in our workplace this tax season is jokingly slipping into the nihilism of believing that nothing matters and remarking “Mangamatay ra man gihapon tang tanan!” (We are all going to die anyway) whenever we are on the verge of despair, ironically to motivate ourselves to swim above the surface in a swamp of work and deadlines—a cynical way of expressing hope in living to see the day when eventually, tax season will end.
From another point of view, and hopefully the preferred one, we could allow Kafka to redefine the way we see ephemerality. Life ends; but, just because it does, it does not mean that there is nothing more to it than senseless meanderings, and so one should completely forego all endeavors to experience whatever life has in store. You did not stop reading at the article’s title, did you? Let’s say you are on a trip to Japan. Would you lock yourself in the hotel room during your entire stay, since you are only going to be there for a week? No, you would most likely go out to see the cherry blossoms, take a walk, or cram as many activities as you can in your itinerary, precisely because you only have week to do it all. Life’s very limits render life its meaning. The true awareness of an imminent conclusion aids in guaranteeing that we use the time we have in the best way we know how. It is for this reason that we, as 19th century essayist Henry David Thoreau puts it in Walden, “live deep and suck out all the marrow of life.” If we lived our lives the way we tirelessly try to deliver excellent output at work within a deadline, or how we go on our vacations, maybe we would be more conscious of the fact that there is little to no room for wasted potential, opportunities robbed by fear, dreams abandoned in slumber, words unsaid, or feelings not expressed.
There is an end to life. Because it ends, it should be lived meaningfully. By the very idea, we are challenged to look deeper into what is between birth and death. As mere mortals, we may not have eternity, but it is consoling that such fate leaves the choice to create our own eternity within our lifetime from which we can draw meaning—a hypothetical perpetuity is brought to light. Forever does not mean transcending death. Forever is when you have worked a solid eight hours yet, when you look at the clock, it’s only 9:45 a.m. Forever is the last few minutes of Friday afternoon, before you can time out, head home, and pass out on your bed to sleep until noon the next day. Forever is when you are at your loneliest, in a pit of distress, and no one is in sight to get you out. Forever is finding in yourself to forgive someone who has wronged you
Forever is also when you wake up in the morning before your alarm goes off, and the warmth of the sun gently nudges you to consciousness. Forever is when you hear music in the sunrise. Forever is when morning dewd gracefully drips off leaves and falls freely on wet soil. One of the best glimpses of forever is in time spent with the people you love, in the miracle of looking into the eyes of your favorite person with the stars sparkling brightly in them.
In such moments—when time seems to have suddenly come to a halt, and it’s as if you are suspended in mid-air; when we allow ourselves to feel, to be fully present in the moment, when we let ourselves be human and, at times, even more than that—perhaps lie the whys and wherefores we are alive. These seemingly infinite moments give us endless, yet numbered days that keep us enthralled with life until it ends, and that make us constantly wanting to return to the beginning.
Charlene de Castro is a semi-senior from the Tax Advisory & Compliance division of the Cebu office of P&A Grant Thornton, the Philippine member firm of Grant Thornton International Ltd.
As published in Mindanao Times, dated 02 April 2019