This morning I felt small. As I was listening to one of my favorite songs, I was reminded of the utter insignificance of my life. Every experience I’ve had or will have, for good or for bad, means nothing in the grand scheme of the cosmos. Nothing I do or say holds any meaning beyond what I myself decide to ascribe. We have no reason to believe morality exists as a concept independent of our own psychological evolution. The afterlife is a fairy tale we can never verify. And when those we love pass away, they will likely be gone forever, never to exist in another form whether tangible, spiritual, ethereal or otherwise.
And yet if life is truly meaningless, why do I fear death? Because I do fear it; I want to live a long, healthy, happy life full of a wide array of experiences. I don’t want it all to end anytime soon. But if it’s all meaningless, that doesn’t make any sense. It’s not rational to care about the inconsequential, the temporal reality quickly dissipating. A century from now, nothing will be left. I won’t care or feel the sting of loss. I’ll be gone, unable to reminisce.
As I sat there listening to Tyson Motsenbocker’s melodious Can’t Come Home Again, I was struck by the simple beauty of the lyrics.
In an interview with The Antidote, Motsenbocker remarked on the story behind the song, which recounts his physical and philosophcial journey following the death of his mother:
“The day she passed away I had the idea to walk from San Diego to San Francisco. I wanted to do what she wanted me to, and force myself to really think through losing her. She was in and out of consciousness, but when I told her about the walk she briefly came to, smiled, and said ‘you can go that whole way and learn nothing at all.’ Of course she would say that! She died the next day, and four days later I was walking on the side of the freeway towards San Francisco.”
“You can go that whole way and learn nothing at all.” Terrifying.
Of course, Motsenbocker’s mother was referring to her son’s planned trek, hundreds of miles up the California coast, but her words also apply more broadly. We can go our whole lives and be left with absolutely nothing to show for it all. Learning requires retention of knowledge. By the end of our days, we will leave the world and all of its lessons behind. We won’t remember a thing, and thus will have learned nothing.
That’s why we must enjoy the moment of our existence before it passes. We cannot hold out hope for another world at the end of the line. There’s wisdom in the cliché that says we must value the journey more than the destination. When there is no destination, the journey is all we have. And though my philosophical mind tells me even the journey should have no meaning, I will continue to live as if it does, because nihilism makes me the arbiter of my own ontology.
If life has no inherent purpose, I will decide the meaning it holds for me. ■