Existential Dread and the Meaning of Life
Within each of you, somewhere hidden, is your best self calling. Her bells become louder with each passing year, as her face, the image of death, becomes increasingly clear.
The horror film industry is based on the notion of death as something terrifying, even gruesome, a monster to be feared and avoided at all costs. If we were to consider that fact as a reflection of the general view of dying, we would realize that dying, and its entangled relative death, are taboo subjects in our culture, which treats both as though they were outsiders intruding upon our otherwise peaceful and happy lives. Life, we believe, would be so much better without death; if only immortality were possible, then, and only then, could we truly be content!
In our attempts to deny and disavow death, we miss out on something truly beautiful: a life-altering friendship. Now bear with me on this; I know it may sound strange, and even downright morbid! In modern times, death is considered to be the antithesis of life; in ancient times, death was perceived as being its catalyst. How can it be that something so terrifying, so frightening, and so awful can spur one to live more fully, more contently, and more actively? Somewhere down the line, death became associated with those negative connotations, despite having once been used as a tool for self-realization (becoming who you can truly be), and due to that association, or possibly preceding it, death was denied, and so were we: we were denied of the other half of life, that which propels us to do wonderful things and experience immense beauty.
If we took the time to consider what makes death so frightening, most of us would reach the conclusion that it is its unfamiliarity; it’s distance from our lives. Interestingly, the antidote to our fear is also the engine that could drive us to create, to love, and to be, to really be, in ways that we never thought imaginable. To hold death on one’s tongue, as Montaigne once recommended, is to be alive. Within each of us exists a vast potential, a self in waiting, who can only become once there’s a drive to create her or him; to actualize that vastness. And that drive to create it, to become who you can be, can only be engendered through the befriending of death, the great reaper, who brings with him the gift of life.
Death and meaning are intertwined: the more you focus on your mortality, the more you attempt to create a meaningful life for yourself. The idea of our death can spur us to become smarter, to be kinder, and to love even harder than we thought we could. The notion of our death can allow us to experience our world through a different lens, the lens of our mortality, which has the power to make us see the beauty of all that we were blinded to before and to realize what’s truly important and valuable; I suppose that was the meaning of ‘Amazing Grace.’
Throughout our lifetimes, we have the gift of making and remaking, through trial, error, struggle, rejection, failure, neglect, education, and application, the most beautiful, enigmatic, frustrating, and majestic things we’ll ever experience, in all of their beauty and imperfection: ourselves. And in that lifetime, the self’s best friend can be the thing which we fear the most, but which, in actuality, is the best tool in our tool chests for self-improvement and self-fulfillment: death. Befriending, or accepting, death isn’t easy, but it’s necessary for the joy we’re continually seeking; in the absence of its recognition, we are destined to remain lost.
Although I once spurned you; I now embrace you. Although I once hated you; I now love you. You are, and always will be, my very best friend, the one who’s given me the gift of life. I once was lost, but now I’m found. I was blind, but now I see.
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