Waking Up to Life’s Meaning
(These are excerpts from a paper I wrote for my existential philosophy class last fall. For the past year or so, I have been thinking about my death every day, and it has caused me to change my life in the form of taking risks and loving more deeply and truthfully. After the recent death of a fellow philosophy classmate, a brilliant and kind soul, I am returning to this theme and thought I would share these thoughts. Considering our death—not in a way of longing for it, but in a way of accepting it fully and not escaping it—we are awakened to life and the inexplicable preciousness of every human life. We become apathetic toward life when we believe we are immortal. Memento mori.)
To know life, we must understand that we are finite, particular, embodied beings. The way to understanding our finitude is through confronting our own death and not glossing over it or disguising it in comfort. In recognizing our finitude through encountering the reality of death, we realize that what seems like the nothingness of life is not nothingness but significance.
As embodied beings we are always living in radical entanglement with others, so therefore, we must actively resist the suffering of the other. In my embodied particularity and entanglement, I must recognize the profound reality of death. I must confront my own death with resounding force, and it is only then that I am awakened to life—life in its radical meaningfulness which urges me to resist the other’s suffering.
To wake up to life, we must first confront death. For Heidegger, this means to resolutely accept the fact that I will die because my whole being is already pressing towards death. This “being,” or condition, is Da-sein. Da-sein is potentiality and possibility.
Da-sein confirms that we are constantly pressing towards our death. We live blindly if we never confront that our death is ours. When I have declared this resolute YES toward death, that I myself will die, other aspects of life become immensely more meaningful to me. My life and possibilities shine brighter because I am authentic towards death.
Albert Camus, through his empty character Mersault in his book The Stranger, asks the profound question about the meaning of life through death. When Mersault mindlessly and senselessly murders a man on the beach, it is then, in that moment of a radical, personal encounter with the reality of death, that Mersault is awakened to the undeniable significance of life.
For Sartre, a position that numbs us to life is bad faith. Bad faith is a negation towards the self because in bad faith we are not asking the question of being. The way to liberation is through being what I am: “But what are we then if we have the constant obligation to be what we are, if our mode of being is having the obligation to be what we are?” We have to understand the ways and degrees to which we are limited as finite beings. This is the opposite of bad faith: this embracing of what one means, what a life means.
Life’s meaning is discovered through a direct encounter with the rupturing reality of death. This reality ruptures the meaningless and gives my life profound meaning which wakes me up to injustice and urges me to act with all that I am. In my finitude and recognition of my own death, I am called into being through responsibility to the other.
you are loved and needed in this world.