We live in a universe where our greatest privilege is life itself, death the inescapable reality governed by space and time. But humans are a death-denying species, constantly forgetting the renewal that death offers the universe, the beginning of a new chapter from the end of the old.
Life is the privilege offered by death, for to be without death is to be without life. We are the product of a thousand deaths from the stars above, and through their destruction came the rise of many, one of them being our own sun. And one day our beautiful planet and the time we spend here will be over, but our beauty will scatter across the universe to offer life to others.
In the end, we are the creators and the destroyers, the living and the dying.
We Are the Privileged
In today's world, it's easy to become distracted by the busyness of our lives and the tight schedules we all operate on. As a result, we often take life for granted, blinded by its fruits from the reality of its fragility. Nothing in this universe lasts forever, and that includes us. We all exist on a time limit, but it's what we do with that time that matters most.
We were given this opportunity to engage in the human experience among the millions of living things on this Earth. The planet itself was, too, given the opportunity to become a safe haven for billions of organisms. Despite our differences, we all have the same birthright: to live. This doesn't mean to just simply be alive, as being alive and living are two very different things. It means that we have the right to use this privilege and opportunity to the fullest of our potential.
When I started high school, I had developed a debilitating depression which left me anxious of others and afraid of the world. I didn't want to go outside, talk to my friends or family, and fell into a dangerous mindset. It wasn't until I was sixteen when I had begun to change my perspective on life. As a result, I got my first tattoo of a quote I had written: "If we hold on to yesterday and long for tomorrow, we'll never learn how to live for today". This quote is what helped pull me from my depression and into a brighter light, in addition to the support of my friends and family, of course.
"If We Hold On To Yesterday..."
The first aspect of this quote is perhaps the most influential and realistic, as humans consistently roam the past, sometimes more often than the present. In psychology, this is known as rumination, when an individual dwells on the past, whether it be the decisions they made, regrets they may have, or events that occurred.
This fragment of the quote represents that tight hold we all have with the past and how it can find a way to alter our entire life course. For example, if one persists at dwelling on their past negative relationships, it will pose threat to their current ones, such as developing beliefs that love doesn't exist, or every man or woman is a cheater and a liar, or that they're simply not good enough. It's clear that all of these beliefs are in fact false, but the past blinds us from that truth by altering our emotions until they ween their way into the present tense.
It is incredibly important for us to understand that regrets are meaningless, as they do not teach us anything other than how to destroy our own pride and integrity. We all make mistakes, but dwelling on the choices we make doesn't make them any easier the next time.
The past is the past and it cannot be changed, but it can teach us a lesson. We all have a different version of how the story goes based on our own perspective, and we should use that unique interpretation to learn how to become the best version of ourselves.
I recently watched a film called Before I Fall, where the main character lives the same day again and again. Without giving anything away, I will state the obvious: she learned how to make the best of every day as if it was her last. After watching this film, the screen sat on pause for about half an hour as I stood from myself in complete reflection.
Although I was already aware of the fragility of life, this movie influenced my perspective greatly until I developed a shattering realization: today is the only day you and I are alive. It's strange to think, but it's true. You are not alive yesterday, and you are not alive tomorrow, but you ARE alive today. Today is all we have. We don't have tomorrow, we don't have the past. That common statement, "there's always another day...", so wrong, yet so natural. We act as if there's always more time, but what would happen if we all acted like today was the only day we had left?
"...And Long For Tomorrow..."
This middle section reflects the endless sea of expectations that flow through our minds, which I discussed in the first part of this series. When we long for tomorrow and we focus our attention so intently on the future, we lose sight of now. The future and the past do not exist, all that exists is now.
We all have immaterial memories, those fragment of our minds dedicated to the past that science has yet to understand. What we do know is that they help us to reflect on our past and develop our personality. Memories, however, are not perfect. The image below is a painting by Salvador Dali, The Persistence of Memory. It illustrates how memories are similar in nature to melting wax, often changing over time. In psychology, a memory is the retention of information over time. Memory comes in three systems, sensory, short, or long.
The Persistence of Memory by Salvador Dali
Sensory memory is the brief storage of perceptual information before it is passed to short-term memory, such as seeing an image as you scroll through Instagram or hearing the sound of a car alarm as you read this article. Once you have perceived it for this fraction of a second, it transfers to short-term memory for sorting.
Short-term memory is a memory system that retains information for a limited duration, usually being a few seconds. The reason these memories don't last long is that their insignificance can cause them to decay or other events can distract us or interfere. Those important short-term events, however, can make it into long-term memory.
Long-term memory is the retention of information for minutes, days, weeks, months, years, or an entire lifetime. They teach us how to grow. They also remind us of the mistakes we've made, careful not to make them again. But most importantly, they prepare us for the future, safeguarding the skills and knowledge we've developed.
Overall, we are our memories. Therefore, we must remember that everything we do now with that information prepares us for tomorrow. That thing that you long for, that you wish to happen, will never happen as long as you just wish. You must do. I want you to take a moment and think about your life. Think about what you have and what you've always wanted to do. Those inner passions and ideas that never came to be. Now think about what's stopping you from reaching these goals. The truth is that there are only two things in this entire universe that can truly stop you from whatever it is you're trying to achieve: yourself and death. For death ends your human chapter, but you're responsible for what you take to the graveyard. You are a creator and destroyer, but what will you do now with that power?
"...We'll Never Learn How to Live for Today."
Through the previous evidence, it is clear that wishing for tomorrow or projecting ourselves into an unknown future can develop into so much anxiety that we stop living in the present moment. We succumb to our pressures and fears until we forget how to simply be.
The truth is that death can be scary, and none of us know what will happen when it comes to claiming our lives. Maybe there's a heaven or a hell, or a thousand hells. Maybe there's nothing at all. Maybe there's something, but we can't comprehend it as living beings. What I do know what happens to us after we're gone doesn't matter as much as what happens right now. Death isn't as powerful as life. Life can create, experience, feel, and be. Death simply stops the human experience, but what it can't stop is what you've done with your life. Everything you've done and everything you've created will project into this universe far beyond our time into an unknown future.
We are the privileged... the creators and the destroyers... the living and the dying.
Lilienfeld, S. O. (2009). Psychology: From Inquiry to Understanding (2nd Ed). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education Inc.