The most important lesson in life is to realize that life is meaningless.
Now hold your horses and follow me here…
This isn't a run at nihilism and complete and utter anarchy with your life and the lives of others, but rather an invitation to paint what ever type of canvas you wish for the formation of your life.
We are all prisoners of our own experience.
It's hard to jump out of our memories and experiences and redefine who we are. We extract meaning from all of our successes and failures. Overtime, we use these events to define who we are.
Sometimes, all the meaning culminates into a negative picture we see for ourselves.
Take for instance my good friend. Let's call her Bella.
Bella was born and grew up in the jungles of Cambodia. She grew up with the bare essentials for survival:
She had an elevated hut where her family and she could sleep and seek shelter from the torrential rain storms that would pass through.
She had a flock of various animals that she would slaughter or use for eggs, goat milk etc.
She had a few neighbors scattered throughout the jungle that she could call on for aid should her situation be hit with heavy misfortune.
On top of all of this, she lived in a place and time where many of her family and friends were being massacred by the Khmer Rouge in the Cambodian "killing fields.”
When Bella was very young, her parents discovered that she had a degenerative issue in her left eye that would ultimately leave her partially blind. Her parents thought that this disability could compromise many of the progressions they have made in their harsh environment so they left her in a secluded area of the jungle to be taken away by the inescapable violent forces of the wild.
Bella was left to be eaten.
She was completely cast aside by the people that should be offering nothing but unconditional love.
After quite some time, she was later found alone in the jungle by her grandmother.
After a chastising of the parents by her grandmother, Bella was brought back to her family.
For years, the lingering trauma caused Bella to act out against her family. She was restless and angry.
Her father finally decided to bring her to the city.
When she enrolled in school, she would still act out and was often expelled from her studies.
After a few years in the Cambodian cities, her family decided to sell all of their belongings and make a voyage to America.
Bella didn't speak any of the language.
She was barely educated.
She (besides the family that ousted her) had no friends or family in this new country.
She enrolled in nursing school and met a man with whom she fell in love with. While in the relationship, she also took care of his bed-ridden grandfather.
For 5 years these two dated.
She lost her virginity to this man.
She was madly in love.
One day, while attending to the grandfather, she was talking to him about the prospects of marrying his grandson.
“I think it would be great” she said, “I love him so much and I believe he loves me just the same.”
“Oh my dear, he may love you” the old man responded, “but there's no way he would marry his grandfather's nurse. How could he? he's been married already to his wife for years.”
Bella had yet run into another obstacle.
This person with who she invested so much love and trust had completely been living a lie. This person had been married for years and had been so cunning and deceitful, it took a conversation with his grandfather in order for the truth to come to the surface.
Bella was broken.
After spending years trying to rebuild herself from the trauma of growing up in the jungle and being left by her family she yet again found herself falling over and traveling down a path that only set her back yet again.
She spent days and weeks alone in her room and cried.
She wouldn't eat.
She wouldn't go out.
She felt hopeless.
She began praying to the universe.
She began asking for something, anything that would tell her that things would be okay.
One day, so broken and in pieces it hit her:
She had been so torn and beaten down that she was yet again starting at zero. With this, she could rebuild herself into what she wanted to be. She could start from scratch. The past meant nothing. With this new starting point, she could be whoever she wanted to be. All the meaning she ascribed to being a failure, to being hopeless, to being a detriment to her family, all of it was made up.
In that moment, she told herself she was “fabulous.”
She told herself over and over again.
Every time something would happen negatively to her, she would brush it off and say, "no matter, I'm still fabulous.”
She tells me this all the time (sometimes so much that I find myself rolling my eyes at her).
Overtime, she saved up the money that she was making from nursing and opened up her own nail salon. She has always been an artist and loves the intimacy of connecting with clients and working on her artistic abilities.
She makes such good money running her shop that she has helped pay her brother's way through nursing school and has since taken over paying the mortgage on her parents’ house.
I argue with her all the time asking her how she could be so compassionate to her parents after they literally left her out in the jungle to die.
She tells me it doesn't matter.
"They were doing what they thought was right in the moment with the resources they had. They put so much meaning on my debilitation and consequently, I put so much meaning on their abandonment and I resented them for it. When it comes down to it, we'll be gone soon. All of us. What we do in this life has really no meaning. With that, we can guide our lives into whatever meaning we choose. Everyday, we can start over with our lives and be whoever we want. I choose to be fabulous!”
It's true though. We ascribe so much meaning to everything that happens to us in life.
We think our failures 10 years ago dictate who we are right now in this moment.
We think all of our failed relationships mean we are a hopeless-romantic destined for solitude (I know I struggle with this).
We think we're "stupid" because a tenured old-bag of a 7th grade teacher asked up if we were stupid when we couldn't figure out, in front of the class, the presented algebra problem.
We think because our parents told us we should be more "realistic” with our career goals, we should follow a path that will never reveal our true potential.
The histories of our lives slowly but surely define us with false narratives on who we actually are.
When we sit back and realize we are just a stream of consciousness, trapped inside a mortal body that is traveling on a tiny blue planet we call “Earth” which is itself cascading at tens of thousands of miles through the abyss of space, we can then redefine who we are and ascribe any meaning to our lives we see fit. We are mere mortals that are living on a borrowed blink-of-an-eye time slot in the cosmos.
Be whatever you like.