The Joy in Existential Despair

February 23, 2014
Many scientists speculate that the universe may be infinitely large. I say speculate because no one can even begin to fathom the massivity of our interminable universe. Many of us find it difficult to wrap our minds around the fact that our beautiful universe, so replete with wonders, is impossibly and unfathomably large. With recent technological advances, the most that scientists can even see of the universe is that it is at least 28 billion light-years in diameter, yet they know that it is far larger than that. Even if the universe were to stop at 28 billion light-years in diameter, we couldn’t possibly fathom how large that is. Let’s take a look at our existence on a smaller scale, though. The average size of a city in the world is 36 square miles. The size of the world is 196,900,000 square miles. This means that the presence of even one city is completely insignificant in comparison to the size of the world. The size of the world is also insignificant in comparison to the galaxy. No matter how people look at it, the point is always the same. One person’s life is so small, that in comparison to the entirety of existence, that it would seem as if it didn’t even matter at all.

An existential crisis is defined as a moment at which an individual questions the very foundations of his or her life. Furthermore, they question whether his or her life has any meaning, purpose or value. During this time, a person thinks about how irreverently small their life is, and this is usually followed by deep anxiety and depression. Most people go through this when they are in their early adulthood or later teenage years. As for me, I was only fifteen when I discovered my place in the universe.

For several months, I had been following the International Space Station on their website, and keeping track of when it was supposed to pass over my house. I went outside every time that it was supposed to pass over my house, even if it was four in the morning. In the quiet darkness of the night that most people correlate with the tangible tinge that aches of desolation, I always felt so at peace. I would stare up into the sky and spot different wonders that our galaxy had to offer. I never actually got to see the ISS, though. Every night it was too cloudy, or it was slightly off of the time track that it was supposed to pass by. I reached the point where I gave up on seeing it. I stopped searching for the ISS, which at that time was the universe to me. I stopped searching for the universe. It wasn’t until that point that it seemed like the universe started to search for me. I was laying in my bed one night looking out the window. I wasn’t naming constellations, or trying to find a space station. I was just looking. It was right there in that moment that I saw the ISS and in such plain sight! It went right over my house, and it was so worth the wait. My initial emotional response was one of joy. The joy was like the carbon dioxide in a soda can; it had been pressurized for so long, waiting to be released, that when I finally felt it, it was uncontainable. My second emotional response was one that I don’t think even the most eminent and renowned of English professors have a name for it. In short, it could be said that I felt desolate. I thought about the lives of the people who lived and worked on the space station, and I felt as I imagine a grain of sand would feel if it were within inches from the Sun. I thought, for a moment, that it was almost as if I didn’t exist at all. The people on the space station were mystical to me. They had been all around the Earth so many times, and I couldn’t even imagine the things that that had seen of our beautiful planet. But even them, the people who had seen all that the world had to offer, were only specs of dusts floating around in space. Oh, but how profound they were to me! These specs of dust, these insignificant human life forms, they were floating far above me. They were far above me, and my atmosphere, and everything in this world that I have loved so dearly because of the safety that I've found in my sand kingdoms here.

I say sand kingdoms because that is all that anything that we could hope to build on this Earth is. This Earth that is so large to us, that we have created our homes on, will one day be nothing but dust and ash again. The most important thing that anyone could ever learn about our visit here to the Earth is that it is temporary. The Earth has an expiration date, and so do we. The only difference is that our due date is much, much sooner. Who do we, as the human race, think that we are? No matter how many times that we hear someone tell us that we are going to die, it never really sinks in for us. Contradictorily, we all act as if we are infinite. We seem to think that our small nothingness of a planet is all that matters. We all embody a grandeur state of mind to a point, in which we not only believe but fully embrace the idea that our tiny lives are the most important thing that could ever happen to this world, and that all power that could ever be lies within our own hands. What an egocentric viewpoint that is!

Media culture likes to talk about how terrible it is to have an existential crisis. (How dare anyone come to the realization that they are not infinite, omnipotent beings!) I think that the reason that such a negative light is shined upon the existential crisis is fear. If the whole of society were to come to the full realization of how small their lives were, what would happen? How are we supposed to behave differently if our lives aren't as big, and as under control as they seem? Everyone should look up into the night sky, and feel the fullness of the universe all around them. Everyone needs to realize how small they are, and for once, quiet their small, chatty brains to just listen. Listen. Can't everyone hear it? The whole universe is singing, and it's begging each one of us to hear. All of the universe is singing of God's majesty. All of the intricacy of His creation sings to Him. Only God is truly infinite. We should look at the beautiful galaxies that He has created, and see how beautiful and worthy He is. We should see His wonders, and feel afraid. We all need to feel afraid to walk around as if our lives are about ourselves. I think that writer Francis Chan said it best when He said that anyone who thinks that the movie of life is about them is crazy. It is a daily choice to follow the God who is so big, that He gives meaning to my life. A couple of times in the Bible, we are told that there is chorus of creatures in the throne room of heaven who are constantly singing to God, telling Him, "Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty; who was, and is, and is to come." I sing in unison with these creatures, not out of obligation, but because the words are true. God is so holy, and so sovereign. No one should ever look at the universe and think that all of this has happened because of them. Throughout the entirety of creation, way back before the universe was created 13.8 billion years ago, God has always been actively present. This is all God's story, not mine. I only hope that when people look up into the sky from their bedroom window at night, that they will see the brilliance of creation, and know that none of it is an accident. I hope that they will all know that God is the purpose to all of this, and that, paradoxically, they will finally find joy in existential despair.

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SophieSkye said...
Feb. 26, 2014 at 10:22 am
Omg beth!!! You did such a great job! I hearttt this :)
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