2012 – James W. Buchan award for writing excellence.

Marianna Zhang, New York.

What is the Meaning of Life?

We are a lonely race. The yawning cosmos is terrifyingly vast compared to our pale blue dot. Civilizations rise and collapse, life is born from stardust and turns back into stardust…all is meaningless against the indifferent backdrop of time. What is the value of life, that unhappy and futile struggle? We constantly strive to fulfill some insatiable desire for a fleeting spark of contentment before we set off again, living a tragically unfulfilled life. We struggle and we die, mere trifles compared to the infinite universe. “All is vanity and a chasing after wind,” proclaims Ecclesiastes. “Hope made a fool of him until he danced into the wind!” Schopenhauer laments. “Why must Sisyphus persist?” cries a reader of Camus.

The very absurdity of our short lives forces us to confront our mortality and create our own set of values. Death is brushed off easily in our society. As Heidegger would put it, “People die” has turned into the assumption that nobody dies. The very presence of death is hidden, forcing people to conform to societal morality. This constant self-objectification and bad faith viciously perpetuates stereotypic values in society. It is only when an individual faces the readiness-to-hand of their own death that they are able to escape these values and forlornly act as a being-for-itself. But how is one to live without societal morality? “God is dead!” Nietzsche’s madman proclaims. Meanwhile, Sais lifts the dreaded veil, revealing a terrible, unblinking, and meaningless void. We have left conventional morality and cast ourselves adrift in this infinite sea. How can a lonely soul find their way in the cold indifferent universe without any stars to guide him?

He creates his own stars, of course. He does not leap overboard and drown himself in the harsh sea. He does not wait calmly for God to deliver him back to land. No, he continues to struggle and fight and live. He lives for possibilities. He draws upon everything he has ever experienced. Every wisp of memory, every surge of passion, every caress of love. In the darkest of nights, he forges his own individual set of values, something enduring that he can live by. He faces death, but boldly faces the challenges of life anyway. He emerges from the twilight intact, having created meaning, radiant stars as fluid as the sea. He is not lost. He sails on, resolutely soaring through the relentless waves. Newborn stars constantly rise from the horizon until he finally slips away, fading into stardust. It is this colossal and passionate struggle that we hurl into the yawning abyss that gives our existence significance. We are responsible for creating our own meaning in this terrifyingly vase and empty universe. As Stanley Kubrick declares, “However vast the darkness, we must supply our own light.”

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