A huge part of my desire for suicide was my existential obsession with the “where did existence come from?” and “where is it going?” and “what is the purpose of existence?” questions. I was overwhelmed with insignificance. I was frustrated that everyone in the world found themselves to be so important, as though out of the hundreds of billions of galaxies, their individual existence had some kind of meaning. I had this generalized view of the world and believed that every part of it was completely insignificant. I almost died because of this belief. Just typing about it gets me feeling dark. I felt like I would never beable to do anything because nothing I did would ever have any kind of impact. I was thinking very generally, as though for existence to be worth it I needed to change the course of history, and even then it wouldn’t fucking mean anything. A very frustrating trap.
The existential part of this conundrum is something I am still working on. A large part of the foundation of my spirituality will consist of coming to an understanding of what it means to exist. However, on an individualized human-level, I have been given a new view of the importance of one person’s existence, no matter how insignificant.
A few weeks ago, my dad sent me an email (which I am going to copy-and-paste here) that put things in perspective for me. It made me appreciate at least the value of another person’s existence in my life, even if that person didn’t have any huge impact on the rest of the world.
This is the email:
I knew a man who lived a pretty unimpressive, ordinary life. What difference did he make? Wasn’t he insignificant?
Here’s his brief story:
- · He didn’t do much in school. He wasn’t an athlete. He dropped out of school in the 11th grade and never went to college (one might conclude he wasn’t very smart). He wasn’t super popular or cool. He wasn’t a great looking lady’s man. He never filled up a room with his presence….I guess you’d say he lacked charisma.
- · He served without distinction in the armed services.
- · He got some training as a tradesman but rather than going out on his own and becoming a successful home-builder, he went to work in a factory for a steady paycheck.
- · He spent 44 years maintaining the factory and then he retired. Several years later the business was sold and the factory was torn down…..44 years spent maintaining a building that simply got torn down.
- · He liked books but his view of the world was pretty limited to a 10 mile radius around his house. He rarely travelled.
- · He had no power, no money and, in the conventional sense, no influence.
Ok, you probably figured it out. That man was my Father. You might say, “what an undistinguished life.”
I disagree with that conclusion, however.
When I gave his eulogy I spoke of “a man who led an ordinary life in an extraordinary way.” I still believe that. I quoted Rumi, who said something like…”the real test of a man is not what he has or what he does but whether he leaves his footprints in the sands of time.” How did Mario do that?
Well, I am biased but here are a few thoughts:
- · He had wisdom and a way of seeing things in such a depth that it seemed like he had lived a few different life times. He had a philosophical way of leading you rather than telling you what he knew was right.
- · He was kind, and he had no ego. He was a very giving man…a caring man. Compassion was a big part of his life.
- · He loved his family. He made sacrifices for his friends and family. He lived without much of anything in the way of material things. He was the personification of discipline and delayed gratification.
- · He was a man of great character, and he modeled behavior that has influenced the subsequent two generations of friends and family that were exposed to him.
So, that’s it. Short and sweet. By any measure of achievement, Mario was pretty insignificant. However, not many men get a eulogy of the kind that Mario got that August day in ’99. The people in the church knew he was an extraordinary man who was significant and did make an impact….but you’d never reach that conclusion reading his obituary. God (or whoever that higher power is) knows he was an extraordinary man. And, given we all come into this life bare ass, and go out with not much more….what is the definition of significance?? I think Mario found it.
My grandpa was a very important person in my childhood, and when he died I felt a huge loss. The problem with my belief that my existence was so insignificant, is the question- what makes it any less significant than anyone elses? And would I agree with anybody else’s decision if they wanted to kill themselves? Of course not. The importance of my grandpa and the impact he had on the rest of human history reminds me of the most influential woman in my life- my tia. I get teary when I talk about how important she is in my life. I think she deserves a nobel peace prize and the lottery and everything good in the world and recognition from every person alive that she is the most loving human I’ve ever known. I don’t think she’ll ever get the recognition she deserves. What makes someone insignificant? Just because the Earth as a whole is tiny compared to the rest of the billions of galaxies, that doesn’t make humans tiny compared to other humans. Our existence may be small in the scheme of all that exists, but to each other, we are huge, and I think it’s worth it to stick around.
This perspective helped me come to terms with the idea that I’ll be a parent one day. Actually, I want to be a parent one day. I have actually started writing my kids a letter that I will give them on their 18th Birthday, if I can keep them alive that long. If I have an impact on my grandkids the way my grandpa had on me, or on my kids the way my father has had on me, I think that is an existence pretty well spent.
My oldest sister will be married four months from today, and I cannot wait for her to have kids (when she is ready, of course). I was on the phone with her recently and she emphasized the importance of me being there for her children. Lots of tearing up during this blog post today… Her impact on my life has been so important, how could I call that insignificant? I think everyone in the world needs at least one sister. She helped raise me and love me, she has been such a North Star for me. And now, eventually, I get to be an aunt. And to think that I had planned to die in August fills me with guilt. That guilt is what makes me a human, the happiness I feel when I talk about these key people in my life makes me a human. Whatever it means to be a human, I think it’s so important to exist because of the emotional connection we have with other humans.
I can call myself insignificant all day long, and say that ultimately my existence doesn’t matter- but we’re all insignificant together, and I am happy with that for now.