Sunday morning, at our usual place, I met up with my friend who lives in the neighborhood to chat about life. Sadly, his favorite table in front of the bakery was occupied, so we walked to the nearby park. He told me he took some time off from work this year to carefully think about what he wants to do with his life. In my 20s, I did something similar. I didn’t work for about half a year. After I purged a lot of my belongings, my apartment looked like I had just moved in with a suitcase. I rarely socialized during that period. I made a point of doing absolutely nothing. I had no TV. I didn’t even read. I would wake up in the morning and go sit at Tompkins Square Park for hours. Doing nothing was not an easy feat.
What we want in life is inextricably tied to what other people want. In an attempt to figure out what I wanted independent of others, I conducted a thought experiment. Instead of thinking about what I would do with my life if I knew I was going to die in a month, I asked myself what I would do if another planet were to collide with the earth in a month, pulverizing the entire human history and future.
Consciously or unconsciously, we all deny our own mortality and strive to immortalize ourselves by writing, painting, building businesses, inventing products, passing on our genes, saving lives, winning awards, getting credits, donating money, etc.. If you were the only one dying, you might spend the month engaged in one of these immortalizing activities, but if the whole planet is vanishing in a month, you would realize the pointlessness of such activities. Even Jesus, Shakespeare, and Beethoven will be forgotten forever like they never existed.
What would you do?
You could find an answer to this question if you can manage to disconnect entirely from human societies. Why you might go on living at that point is necessarily beyond language. As soon as any words are uttered, they express our desires bound up with those of others. In language, there is no desire that is purely your own. Where there are no others, you don’t exist either. But there is something beyond our desires that drives us, and it doesn’t care when or how it ends.
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