By Madeleine Adams
The other day, a man spun a dime on the ground in front of me. He told me if it spun fast enough it would look round, impenetrable. This was his attempt to show why the earth was flat, central. This was him grasping onto the centralism that the pre-Copernicus world guaranteed. Giving us a parent to suckle from for life, providing meaning and some intrinsic importance that even an unweaned man who spends his time spinning coins in front of girls on Toronto’s sidewalks could have. But then I told him that I don’t think we’re spinning that fast. I told him: God is dead.
Growing up I felt the need to make a mark on time, to prove my meaning before drifting out of memory. God was never real to me—a blessing in that I could come up with my own perceptions of the universe, take to philosophy in my later teen years, but a curse in that there existed an ever looming fear of not-so-distant death and time. I turned to existentialism at age 8 after I was told a distant relative whom I was never close to had died. My parents, I presume, assumed this would have little impact. And they were right, somewhat: I didn’t feel like I had lost anything; I already knew death was a fact of life.
But I went to bed that night and pondered my meaning of existence and my terrifying lack of time. I felt hot breaths flow out of me and watched how each lightly pushed the curtain I faced. Each push marking a lost moment. I became hyper aware that this would all end. Nothing, I knew, really matters in the grand scheme of things. I was terrified that we were doomed.
How could one believe such false or even unrealistic beliefs? Live disillusioned, passive, unquestioning, as a complete opposite of my philosophy-major self. How could the man humiliate himself enough to get down on his knees and spin a coin to protest his transitory nature, convince himself of a false reality to believe in real meaning?
When I went to my first funeral though, years later, I thought it was beautiful. I understood, for the first time, the true comfort and beauty of religion. People were hopeful, and their hope was real, even if what they believed in wasn’t. It made it easier, and I was envious of their ease.
How can we cope with the void that may have erupted with organised religion’s decline? There exists, I believe, no single best way to answer this. But, as religion occupies an increasingly fleeting position in both my own life and the lives of those around me, I find that my efforts to find alternative perspectives to observe the operations of the universe, to ascribe it meaning, has led me in the opposite direction. As the void increasingly exposes its size to me, the more accepting I become of the fact that, perhaps, life is simply devoid of meaning, and that is okay.
At 17, I found solace in Sartre and Camus. And with French existential philosophy, I accept and find comfort in my mortality and transitory nature. I walk city streets and see myself as part of an ever-changing, fleeting landscape. I turn to art and philosophy to give my life meaning. And I know this meaning isn’t real in any objective way; I could call it mere distraction, but through subjectivity, I find freedom. I learn to love humanity. I understand people and become willing to crouch down with the man with the coin and listen, empathise with his methods of grappling with the inescapable absurdism of life. I see myself in everyone, and a disconnected community emerges—a new, isolated religion forms in and by modernity. I know that we may be doomed, but I am finally comforted by this thought.