The biggest fear, universal and panhuman, is this of death.
Even if you accept your mortality, even if you espouse Epicurus quote “accustom yourself to the belief that death is of no concern to us” and as a result you are not afraid anymore of what will happen next since you will not be around, still another problem remains.
Since life is so short and nothing comes next, could it be futile then? Why should we do anything at all, let’s resign and perish.
We can save ourselves from the futility of existence only if we comprehend that we are part of a bigger reality, only if we look beyond ourselves.
Imagine a tranquil lake. A pebble falls into it, cast by no hand.
Our whole life is but this infinitesimal amount of time that the pebble hits the surface.
How long human life lasts if we compare it with the billions of years that have passed and the billions of years that will come to pass? Not even a blink of an eye. Epicurus was preaching the Symmetry Argument. Before you were born, you didn’t exist; therefore you didn’t worry about your inexistence. The same applies once you die: you will feel nothing.
But it is not the selfsame thing if you were not born at all because you will have created ripples, you will have given your energy.
Let’s go back to our lake. The pebble did not exist before it hit the lake. Once it falls into it, it vanishes again. This is the Symmetry Argument.
But during this brief collision it disturbs the surface of the lake. Concentric rings form and spread until they reach the shores of the lake where they fade out.
These ripples are a cause, they are a personal meaning which render our lives worth of living.
The way we live affects the other people. Τhis might be the only meaning, namely to offer something positive in this world, to create something that we will leave behind when we are gone.
What we leave behind is not our name or our genes. We are not –just- animals. Humans impart civilization.
What you leave behind with your “child” is love, caring, the strength and energy, the skills, in short, you provided them to move forward and do the right thing.
It’s neither here nor there if it is your biological child or an adopted one or if it is a student of yours, or even another person you came across.
I read about a patient of Irvin Yalom, Barbara is her name, who was standing before her death with only a little time left to live and she had fallen to drown herself into the ocean of futility.
She was saved by a dream she saw (Barbara was a retired teacher). She dreamed that she was in her class but she wasn’t sitting behind the teacher’s desk, instead she was in a coffin, dead, and the lid was open. She saw all of the children she had ever taught filing in and every child would leave a flower telling her: “thank you Mrs. Barbara”.
She woke up relieved, almost happier than ever before.
It was in this moment when she fully grasped the purpose of her life: she had helped some people to conquer joy and integrity in life, she had created some ripples that fought back the immorality and violence that monopolize the media and the injustice and violence that rules our world.
The fear of death can be harnessed if we realize that all of us have a special task just like Kazantzakis wrote on The Saviors of God: Spiritual Exercises: “every deed of yours has an impact on thousands of fates”.
“There is no redeemer who will pave the way”.
Each and every one of us is the One who came here to help, not to save the entire world, dear Master Nikos.
Each and every one of us could salvage a small piece of the soul and dignity of humanity.
Every deed and every word of ours echoes in eternity through the ripples we created by falling into the lake of existence.
It is neither sainthood nor altruism. Once again we do it for our own sake because we want our life to have a purpose and a meaning, not just go wasted as if we are brutes.
Who hasn’t felt elated when they learned, directly or indirectly, that they had been important to someone else or when they had been helpful? Is there any greater reward than hearing the words “thank you for helping me to carry on”? And leaving you a flower.
Man is sentenced to be free. Once we fall into the lake, we are free to choose what we shall leave behind.
The lake is there, but every pebble forms different ripples. You can spawn nothing but pain and horror; you can leave strength and hope behind you.
In Hitler’s Germany there were many who served consciously as torturers, but some others fought against evil. The same goes in every era. Evil never ends, it simple changes facade.
The lake is enormous. Not all of us can be Mahatma Gandhi or Ursula Le Guin. Our ripples are smaller and fade out faster. But this is our role, our purpose and we shouldn’t think of it as inferior.
Even if we help a single person, if we affect anything with our ripples then we have offered something in this world and we will have saved our –living- soul.
It is not a matter of posthumous fame or vanity. It is an innate need to find a meaning.
We build something for the next generations to enjoy, be it a garden, a park or a poem. We look after the place where our offspring will live, a neighborhood, a forest, a mountain, our planet.
What is left behind is not your name, your genes, not even the memory of your existence, all these things are pointless.
What you leave behind is energy, the tide is energy.
And energy never vanishes.
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Translated by Alexandros Mantas: