on existence

Trigger warning: Some talk about the notion of death and existence.

I think a lot about death.

Perhaps it’s because I’m getting older. Perhaps it’s because of the inescapable, constant barrage of tragedy. Perhaps it’s both. As time moves forward, I find myself revisiting a few thoughts: there will come a time where my loved ones will pass, and there will also be a time where I too will pass.

One thing I know for sure is that I didn't think about it much in the past. Up until the last four years or so, I completely focused on surviving, and non-existence felt like a panacea, albeit the most extreme one possible. Now, life has improved to a point where I can live comfortably; I finally have the time and safety to appreciate the beauty and nuance that existence offers. And it's precisely because of that beauty and variety that I get so scared about not existing.

But what is existence anyways? And why does the thought of not existing scare me so much?

My initial answer to that question was "Well, it's really the only thing I've ever actually known". Upon initial consideration, that doesn't seem like a bad guess. Each of us are literally thrust (or carried) into existence without any consideration for our feelings on the matter. We live on autopilot for a few years until the day in which our consciousness crystallizes and suddenly we're burdened with the weight of self-awareness.

Since that day, there's a question I've asked myself many, many times: "Why?" Of course, I'm not alone in asking that question. Since time immemorial, people have wondered the same things: "Why? Is there a point to any of this?"

We live our days in pursuit of the answers to these questions, pondering what it truly means to exist. And in the absence of an answer, we try to make it for ourselves. Do we ever succeed in that attempt? And how can we be sure that the meaning that we create, if any, is the right one? Beings have been created and killed in service of meaning; churches have been built and wars have been waged, all in the name of the meaning for existence.

None of this is to say that I have the answer to those questions; it's very much the opposite, and that's certainly not because of a lack of effort on my part. It does me no good to ruminate on such things, especially if doing so almost always guarantees a panic-inducing existential crisis. However, in the last year, I've been able to cope with the existential dread with a small idea, and I'd like to end this post by sharing it with you.

There's an old Tumblr post in which the poster talks about a few things they do that originally came from their loved ones and ends it by saying "I am a mosaic of everyone I’ve ever loved, even for a heartbeat." That idea has stuck with me since I first read it a few years ago.

There are many parts of the intangible me that, if asked, I could share exactly why it's important to me as well as the loved one who "gave" that piece to me. Some of those people are in my life on a daily basis and some of those people I'll never see again for one reason or another. Sometimes, I like to think that these people are experiencing life as I do; after all, I would not be the person I am today without these wonderful gifts. Even after these people's conscious existences have come to an end, pieces of them will still be carried through time with me. And in the times that I help those around me, it's possible that through those actions, a mark is left upon them in the same way a mark was left upon me. Even if that mark is from me and not my loved one, the source is still the same and it's as if their existence continues on in a new way.

What if every action from every being leaves an infinitesimal but indelible mark upon us? A bird's song serves to communicate information about mating or territory; it vibrates the air which then changes the position of our eardrums so that we hear it. A rose releases organic compounds into the air to attract pollinators; we catch a whiff of these chemicals through our nose and recognize it as a sweet, floral scent. Think about it. Through each of our senses, we are constantly being moved from one state to another. We receive bits and pieces from every being around us, make them our own for awhile, and then let them go like a living ship of Theseus.

What if what I know as existence is just the present combination of all of these bits and pieces of every living thing that has come before me? Perhaps I'm borrowing them and it's just my turn to blip into consciousness? And when my body ceases to support me and my conscious existence fades away, all of the things that were me simply move on and become a part of something else?

If that's the case, then maybe I've always existed and so have you. And maybe we'll both continue to exist long after we die as the pieces of a new kind of existence.

If that's truly the case, then maybe I'm not so scared anymore.