Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Gift That Keeps on Giving...

Is it possible for me to be thankful for the life that I am presented with and also hope that, through a miracle, my life is changed into something else entirely? I have chronicled in this blog that we should not shrink away from the difficulties presented us in our lives, but rather by embracing our struggles we are able to grow and learn in ways that would be impossible otherwise. It makes perfect sense to me that we should not be afraid or try and run away from our struggles because they are capable of transforming us; however, it also makes perfect sense to hope and pray that, through miracles, we will be relieved of our struggles. 

It's easy to say that we should accept our difficulties so that we can learn from them if at the end of the struggle everything ends positively. If you go through a trying and difficult time and you emerge from that experience healthy and happy (or your loved one emerges healthy and happy), then it is easy to look back over that difficult time and see the positive sides. It would be much more difficult to watch a loved one pass away or suffer intensely and then try and find positivity. It is with that wrench in the mix that I'm asking whether you can accept your difficulties happily and also pray for a miracle to change your life.

I've spent over three years trying to accept my life with cancer and deal with the difficulties in as positive a manner as possible. But every second that passed in that time I have been praying that God would create a miracle in my life and relieve me from the struggles of cancer. I have grown from my experience and learned so much invaluable information - lessons that I would never trade for anything - but I don't want to stay sick forever. When the book closes on this saga, I want to be one hundred percent healthy. 

Even though I have been praying for a miracle every day over the last three years, I have never asked God to take away the cancer just because I wanted it gone. Instead, what I've asked is that if I'm chosen as deserving of a miracle that God create that miracle as he sees fit. Whether that means a miracle is moments away or years away, my hope is just that I'm lucky enough to get a miracle, but if not then I will welcome my future as it comes. It's logical that I would want to not suffer, but, to me, it also is logical that if you must suffer, then you shouldn't complain or curse God, but rather simply accept your cup and drink from it. Jesus Christ did not want to suffer, but suffering was his fate and so although he asked that he not be made to suffer, he resolved that if suffering was his destiny that he accepted it as his destiny and loved it as his destiny. 

I have had friends and families that were not lucky enough to receive a miracle. I've had an e-mail companion who was not lucky enough to receive a miracle. I've had old teachers that were not lucky enough to receive a miracle. What I do know is that each of these wonderfully inspirational people fought as hard as they could against there struggles and they fought with the voracity of the Spartan army. Alas, by virtue of their humanity, though they fought through hell and high-water, they simultaneously wished for a miracle that they may be saved.

I can't explain the perhaps displaced guilt that I feel when thinking that I'm still around and they are not. I feel guilty looking into my cousins' eyes knowing that their mother isn't around. I feel guilty looking at my friend's eyes knowing his de facto fiancee isn't around. I feel guilty looking into any person's eyes because everyone has known somebody who has suffered a tragedy. I feel guilty that I've been lucky by being able to survive this long, and I, like each of them, pray and wish and hope that I will receive a miracle that I may be saved. What I know is that, though each of the people I am describing wished for their own survival, that they all, knowing me, simultaneously wished for my survival as well. If my position was switched with theirs then they would be writing here about their guilt.

Because of my guilt and because of my experience, I look at my life and my struggles and I try and accept them openly and fight against the difficulties honorably. But because of my humanity I will hope and pray for a miracle to change the difficulties right now facing me. It seems a tall task, but it also seems fitting, that I will try and live my life happily and in a matter that my fallen friends will smile when looking down. I will try and live my life so that the loved ones of those who have fallen will not say that I'm wasting the gift that I've been given that their loved ones were not - the gift of life. 

"Life is a gift, and it gives us the privilege, opportunity, and responsibility to give something back by becoming more." - Tony Robbins

Friday, September 4, 2009

Look Who's Talking Now...

What was the cause of cancer? I'm not talking about what causes cancer. I'm asking you what caused cancer in the first place. Smoking causes cancers, drinking causes cancers, genetic predisposition causes cancer, but again I'm curious as to what is the first reason for cancer ever having occurred. There are documentations written on papyrus from around 1500 B.C. that explain separate occurrences of tumors being found in human tissue. There has also been speculation by some archeologists that hardened tumors have been uncovered on dinosaur fossils. So you see, I'm interested to know if you are interested in knowing how, when, and why cancer first started. The most likely answer is that we will probably not know how, when, or why cancer first started. We will have to accept that cancer is more than likely a random act of nature that we will never fully understand. We will have to accept that cancer is one of many things that can be classified as beyond our understanding. 

But we are not comfortable with the idea that there are things that we cannot understand. We believe that whatever we personally cannot understand, there are some people that do understand the things that we do not know, likewise we know things that other people do not know. This shared knowledge is part and parcel of a social contract of which we all are apart. If I know everything that I can know about A, but know very little about B, and you know everything you can know about B, but you know very little about A, then between you and I we know everything we can know about A and B. This is the type of environment in which we believe we exist. Among all the people in the national and global population we comfort ourselves by believing that we know everything that can be known about everything. So when we need our plumbing fixed we call a plumber because those are the people who know about plumbing. And when we need to fix our car we take it to a mechanic because those are the people who know about cars. When we need medical assistance we go to see a doctor because doctors are the people who know about health. At least that's the precedence for our belief system.

But our belief system is a lie. Actually it's not actually a lie, because a lie would mean that someone is creating this ideology falsely in order to deceive us, but that's not really what's happening. We all know that there are things in this world that no one knows, so it's not a lie. It's like Isaac Newton's laws of physics: if you follow out the mathematical calculations of Newton's laws it turns out that the math does not completely work itself out. The math is so close to being accurate, however, that we accept the laws as truths despite their inaccuracies. Likewise, we accept the social contract that states that whatever we don't know personally somebody somewhere knows despite the inaccuracies of the contract.

I've said many times in the last three years that doctors can say that your life will end soon, similarly they can tell you that everything is A-OK, but the truth of the matter is that there is no way that the doctors can know everything. As far as what doctors are capable of knowing, though, cancer is at the very bottom of the list. Doctors understand very little about cancer especially in comparison to how often the disease occurs. I have detailed in this blog ad nauseam that the doctors believed that I would be dead a long time ago, and yet I am still alive. I have also told you all in this online memoir that there have been multiple occasions in which the doctors told me that I would no longer be living, and yet I promise you that I'm alive. 

I guess this post goes back to my statistics thesis, or my statistics antithesis. Life does not follow logic or reason or mathematics. Whether our lives are predestined or we have free will we can debate forever, but in either case whatever happens to us or will happen to us does not follow a certain equation and it certainly does not follow the dialogue of medical doctors. In other words, just because someone tells you a certain thing will happen does not guarantee that the thing will actually happen. We all seem to understand this when it comes to certain professions - politicians, lawyers, hair stylists - but what we need to understand is that this fact also applies to the professions we normally associate with inarguable facts by virtue of their professions - doctors, teachers, accountants. No matter what we are told at a given time it by no means limits the number of possible outcomes. There is no such thing as good news or bad news, there is only news and our perspective to that news at a given time.

Doctors are not infallible predictors of the future and it is not they that pretend to be such, it is we who assign them that characteristic. Personally I could give a damn what the doctors tell me will happen to me because as much as they may have studied cancer, more often than not the doctor has never had cancer. As much as he knows about what the medical books say about cancer that gave him the title he holds today, I know a hell of a lot more when it comes to undergoing the disease itself.

I graduated in the top 30% of students at New York University, a school which graduates among the most students per year throughout the country. I graduate cum laude. When it comes to doctors I always keep this small fact in mind, and you should too: it is a mathematical fact that fifty percent of all doctors graduated in the bottom half of their classes.

Don't believe everything that you're told...

Friday, August 28, 2009

Curiosity I Guess...

Before I was diagnosed with cancer, most of the stories I heard about cancer patients were not flattering. More or less I was bombarded with stories that sounded like parables from the Bible. What I mean by that is that every story seemed to follow a nice and neat narrative arc that began with impossibility, moved to anger, slid to reflection, and transformed into peace and acceptance. In short, the stories of the cancer patients that I heard did not sound like real life; rather, they reminded me of the hundreds of predictable stories that I'd read in the years of studying English literature. All you ever hear about with the stories of people with cancer is the anger and then the reconciliation of that anger, but there are very rarely real, tangible feelings that come out of those stories. I'm going to try and break that trend.

Fear is a crippling emotion. It makes you do things you would not do, but it also stops you from doing things that you would do. Besides those relatively obvious conclusions, fear is a word that people thoughtlessly use. I would assume that many of you will say that you know what fear is and that you have truly felt it through and through. I would, however, be surprised if most of you have ever felt a fear that actually changed the way your mind operated from that moment onward. 

In this blog I have been reticent to distinguish myself from anyone else because I truly believe that I am not different from you just because I have cancer; nevertheless, I have felt a fear that has altered my life and I believe that most of you have not, despite your feelings to the contrary. Most individuals have moments where they fear for their lives, but the things about those times are that they are moments and nothing more. Try and imagine taking that moment, those seconds, those minutes, or hours even, and extending them for three years. Imagine feeling the most fear you have ever felt - imagine feeling that life-and-death situation - but that you feel it every single second for three whole years straight. Imagine that fear never gets less, but in fact has frequent moments in those three years where the fear grows stronger. But fear is perhaps the easiest of all the emotions I've experienced.

The secret emotion, the one that slips under the rug, and the one that you probably imagine is nonsensical is guilt. I have been inundated for three years with a guilt the extent of which I can never truly make clear to you. Fear is difficult to endure, but one can endure. Guilt, though, is inescapable, because you are not battling an emotion with an origin from within. The guilt I feel each and everyday comes from the pain, hurt, panic, fear, and worry that I've caused my family, friends, and loved ones.

You see, most people are too preoccupied with the difficulties facing the cancer patient to see how the loved ones of the patient are being affected. My fiancee Katie spends almost every single second of her life worrying about me - how I'm feeling, have I thrown up today, did I eat enough, is my abdomen filling up with fluid, does my back hurt, do I feel nauseous. She is constantly tired because her mind is so preoccupied with me that she sleeps lightly just in case something happens to me she can be there in a moment's notice. Her life is completely altered because of my deficiencies. And this is more or less the same for my father and my mother, not to mention the preoccupation of my brother, sister, and other loved ones, though it may not be to the same extent. 

Those of you who know me well should know that I have never been a person who depended on other people very much. My parents have always been there for me and that has been a comforting safety net, but I have always done things on my own. I've always been considered a man's man. A guy who could fend for himself, who could physically handle most things, I was a guy that you would call to move your furniture, or to back you up in a fist fight. Cancer has taken so many things from me - my health, my hair, my appetite, my iron-clad stomach (I'll be back in form one day Emanuel), my strength - and it has forced me to be a burden to my loved ones. They of course will say that I am not a burden, but I feel like a burden. The albatross that hangs from their necks, that keeps them from sleeping comfortable at night, that impedes them from carrying on their days as they normally would. 

When I visit friends and family for dinner, they have to adapt their planned menu around me, and if they don't then they are made to feel guilty when I don't eat. You see, everyday I manage to change in some way the way a person would normally conduct their life. At work, my cousin, who is very serious about working hard, is willing to allow my work to go uncompleted if he even suspects that I am feeling less than well. I appreciate that he is so understanding of my difficulties, but it's difficult to accept that I am now the person who has excuses made for him. I used to be the rock that everyone could count on for a die hard demeanor, but now I'm looked upon as a weaker, less capable version of my former self.

I am humbled by so many of these things, but humility cannot take away the guilt. Even as I write down my consumption of guilt here, it is not an adequate description of what I feel. It's a lose-lose situation because if I make it out of this situation alive, which I whole-heartedly believe that I will, then the last three years will have taken so many opportunities away from those who are closest to me. If, however I do not make it out of this situation, then not only have those who care about me altered their lives to make mine even a little more tolerable, but they will also have to reconcile the loss of their son, fiance, brother, cousin, nephew, or uncle. Lose-lose... 

You always hear about the anger, the pain, the nausea, the difficulty, the strength, the determination, and the perseverance of the cancer patients, but what you do not hear about (perhaps because you refuse to listen, or maybe because the sufferer is reluctant to explain) is how the cancer patient suffers from an overwhelming guilt. My life means nothing to me if not for my family and my fiancee. That's why the guilt breaks me down. I hope you understand that I know it seems silly for me to feel guilty that the people who love me care about me enough to alter their own lives. You will tell me that they do it because they care. I know they care and I know that's why they do it; but you must know that I feel guilty nonetheless. I hate making people worry and my loved ones, especially my Katie, can't help but constantly worry about me. 

She's a worrier. That's why I call her "Whiskers"... 

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

I'm Just Trying to Graduate...

Some people have asked me how I am able to find the strength to deal with the difficulties I've faced in my life. Still others have wondered why I am so determined to face my obstacles head on without slowing, without rest. The questions may seem reasonable from your perspective, but you must understand that they are difficult for me to comprehend from my vantage point.

When I was still in school, I was given homework assignments, and we had quizzes, and there were tests, and papers and what not. I never really enjoyed school and I definitely did not enjoy school work. Yet I did my homework, and took the quizzes, studied (somewhat) for tests, and researched and wrote my papers. I did not complete my assignments because I wanted to nor because I enjoyed doing it. I completed the tasks that the teachers laid in front of me because that was what was required of me if I wanted to pass the class. I needed to do the work if I wanted to move on, that is, if I wanted to make it to the next grade level. If, however, my goal was to remain exactly where I was at that moment, then I could have chosen not to do that work. I could have chosen not to complete my tasks, my obstacles, and I would have been left back. The only way to move forward in school was to complete whatever assignment was laid in front of me, to the best of my ability. There were no other options. Either I could deal with whatever crap was laid in front of me and move on or I could choose not to confront the challenges laid in from of me.

Most people that I know didn't make their way through school because of some inherent sense of enjoyment. I think for the most part, we did our school work because we wanted to move towards the things that lay beyond school. In essence, we wanted to keep on living at the same pace as everyone else our age rather than being left behind in their dust. The assignments were obstacles on our pathways to our goals and they were obstacles that needed to be overcome. And either we overcame them and we were able to realize our goals or else we did not overcome them and we had to reset our goals.

Finding the how and the why to exhibiting strength in living with cancer is very much the same to me as finding the how and the why to getting through school. I do not go to my treatments because I enjoy them or because I think that they are "fair." I go to my treatments because those are the obstacles laid in front of my pathway to my goal. I do not force myself out of bed, tired and in pain, to go to work because I'm a man filled with unequivocal inner strength. My goal is to beat my cancer, no matter the difficulties and no matter the consequences, and in order to reach my goal I must first overcome the obstacles that lie between my goal and myself. 

If I did not want to move on or move forward in my life then I could very easily choose not to attempt to overcome the difficulties and challenges presented to me. Before you throw around words like strength and determination and perseverance, we must look at the entire scope of the situation. I'm trying to survive, and that's all I'm trying to do. It's not about strength, determination, and perseverance, just like it wasn't about strength, determination, and perseverance when I was trying to move from seventh grade to eighth grade. Back then, just like now, all I was trying to do was keep moving forward. There were no pats on the back nor praise when I passed from grade to grade, because I was seen as having done nothing more than completing the assignments required of me. My struggle with cancer is exactly the same thing: I'm just completing the assignments required of me. 

It seems simple enough to know that a law student deals with the difficulties of studying law with vigor and determination because he hopes to become a lawyer and enduring those difficulties are necessary in his pursuit. Similarly, it seems commonplace to note that a presidential hopeful withstands the hardships that come with running a presidential campaign because we understand that he deals with those things because he wants to be the president. For me, it's easy enough to understand that a person who wants to survive will complete any task that is necessary for that person to survive. 

I don't know about words and titles that one may attach to my life right now because the only thing I'm focused on is completing the task at hand. Maybe I'll look back when this ordeal is over and I will say that strength, determination, and perseverance got me through my fight against cancer and against death. As for now though, I'm just trying to do my homework so that I don't get left back.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

"Because I Said So" Doesn't Count Here

You are nonchalantly walking down 7th Avenue in New York City passing in front of the Madison Square Garden side of Pennsylvania Station. You glance up to look at the world famous arena, and a man, dressed in an expensive, custom tailored suit punches you directly in the face, shattering your left eye socket. The man continues to walk down the street, southbound, and you decide (without any evidence to substantiate your claim) that he is heading to Nevada Smiths on 3rd Avenue and 11th Street to watch an English Premier League match between Liverpool and Arsenal. Nobody around you seems to have noticed what has just happened to you, despite it being 5:15 p.m. with the crowd of rush hour commuters scrambling to make their trains. You pick yourself up off the ground, gather your wits about you and board the New Jersey Coast Line 5:26 train heading towards Bayhead, NJ. As you sit down you finally are given the time to reflect back on what your Guinness drinking (speculation) English soccer watching (further speculation) assailant has done to you.

My question: are you more concerned with the manner in which this man came to punching your eye socket into pieces (HOW) or the reason he punched you in the face (WHY)?

If you want to know HOW this man wearing a dark gray, Joseph Aboud suit with a red and white, thatch patterned Burberry tie and Prada shoes came to punch you in the face, that’s easy. Electrical signals traversed the synapses between the billions of neurons his brain, which then travelled down the spinal cord, locating the proper nerve vessels to trigger muscular reaction in a wave-like successive manner producing a fluid movement of the arm in a punching motion. The motion itself created a determinate kinetic force, which was transferred at the moment the business man’s fist made contact with your face, at which point the force generated by his movement was beyond the force that the ocular bones of the skull could absorb and so the bones fractured. Understanding HOW the man punched you is like understanding how two plus two equals four. It’s a matter of INFORMATION only. And it’s about as useful as trying to uncover HOW our lives are lived, whether we are “free” to make choices or the choices have already been made. What are you going to do to change it anyway?

Let’s say when you die, you go up to Heaven and you ask God, “Did I have free will or did you already know everything that was going to happen?” And God responds saying, “You had free will AND I already knew what you were going to do.” Are you going to engage God in a debate about how if He already knew then you were not really FREE to choose? I mean He’s God! Or even if you die and there is no Heaven, but you just die, would you like to die having spent your life worrying about whether you were "free" to make choices or not?

But understanding WHY the man punched you is something altogether different. It’s not about asking “Oh goodness, WHY me? What did I do to deserve this?” That’s cowardly, not to mention, asking why it happened to you is not going to make whatever happened to you UN-happen. Asking WHY is about understanding what can come out of whatever has taken place. Asking WHY is about coming to an UNDERSTANDING. I assure you that nothing that is worth knowing can be attained by acquiring information. It must be understood. It at least must be contemplated, thought about, ingested, digested, excreted and studied. 

There's some things that we have talked about a lot. We are all going to die some day. We can't control the things that happen to us, but only our responses to what happens. Life is perhaps meaningless and absurd. Fine... But we are here so... We have already spent so much time asking HOW. Mathematics, physics, quantum physics, Darwin, evolution, natural selection, genetics, surgery, medicine, and on and on and on... We have so many answers to so many questions, but we have only been in the pursuit of INFORMATION. And so all we have is a whole lot of information, but not that much UNDERSTANDING. We know how the seasons change, how weather happens, how obesity causes heart disease, how how how HOW. We think we understand the way the world works, but most scientists will tell you that despite all the things we do know there are an infinite number of things we do not know and may never know. Like how does an otherwise perfectly healthy 21 year old man develop a highly fatal form of cancer with such a bleak prognosis that over 80% of the times affects people between the ages of 55-75... How does that happen? I don't know and neither do any of you, or anyone else... So, why not try to start answering the question of WHY?

God is a choice that some make to answer why. Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, Atheism, Satanism, Hedonism, and many other "-isms" all try to answer the question why. Look: sometimes your eye socket gets smashed, sometimes you get into a fender-bender, and sometimes you get cancer. It's hard to anticipate how your life is going to pan out, because that entails having to know the future and unless you are a super-intelligent, perfectly predicting alien then that might be hard. But "why" is about experiencing something and then being asked to look back over it in the hopes of understanding it. Or "why" is about understanding now why you will do something in the future. But it's not about information it's about understanding.

This was long, but I leave you with perhaps one of the most thoughtful quotations I've ever read (and I will try and make this the last Kierkegaard quote for a little while):

"Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards." - Soren Kierkegaard

Sunday, August 2, 2009

To Thine Own Self Be True...

Imagine that we are the figurative prisoners of Plato's Allegory of the Cave, which he represents in The Republic. Imagine that we are chained to a wall in an underground cave and we cannot move our limbs nor swivel our heads. We are forced to look straight in front of us. This is the only world we have ever known. We were born into bondage and have remained fettered thus since our birth. Meanwhile, our captors have taken to create puppets that are in the likeness of objects that appear in the "real" world such as puppets imitating men, women, trees, balls, dogs, cats, the sun, the moon, etc. The have decided to build a fire behind our chained backs and pass the puppets in front of the fire in order to cast shadows against the wall of the cave which we are facing. We see the shadows passing across the cave wall and, becoming familiar with the shadows, we begin to name the images that we see before us. In this "reality" the most "intelligent" individuals would be the ones who can identify the shadows most quickly and most accurately.

Now imagine that our captors decided to unchain half of us. We would now be able to stand up and turn around and walk around. Instead of seeing only shadows cast by an indeterminate light source, for the first time we would see the puppets and the fire itself. Our eyes would be blinded by the brightness of the fire after so many years spent in darkness. We would be unfamiliar with the puppets having only experienced their distorted shadows cast on the wall. Slowly we would begin to become familiar with the light of the fire and the forms of the puppets. The most knowledgeable of the individuals in this reality would be the ones who could understand manner in which the fire created light which cast the shadows of the puppets when the puppets were passed in front of them. The fire would become the new light and the puppets would become the knew objects. Together the fire and the puppets would be the new truth and our "truth" would be more correct than the "truth" understood by those still chained to the wall.

Now imagine that our captors decide to take you alone out of the cave and force you above ground for the first time. The brightness of the sun in relation to the fire would once again blind you. Eventually, your eyes would once again become acclimated to the new light and for the first time you would see the objects in whose image the puppets of the cave were created. For the first time, you would see men and women, trees, balls, dogs, cats, etc. We would understand the true source of light and the true nature of objects. Our "truth" would be more correct than either "truths" we "knew" in our other circumstances.

I know that was long and drawn out, but it's important that we know these references. There is a reason why nearly every individual who receives a higher education reads Plato and Descartes, Aeschylus and Shakespeare, Homer and Dostoevsky. These things have reference to our lives STILL. Lessons have been learned from reading them for years and will continue to be learned for years. The lesson learned from the Allegory of the Cave is to understand that the pursuit of truth, knowledge, and understanding is not about increasing achievements, but is rather more about successive disappointments. As we "understand" more, we are disappointed to learn that what we previously understood as true was not actually true (or at least it was true in a much lesser or different form). 

My cousin Elie posted a comment in which he wrote that our life is not about whether or not we are "free" to make choices, but is more about understanding why we make the choices we make. He makes a reference to the Latin phrase temet nosce (or more properly nosce te ipsum) which means Know Thyself. We worry about being free to make choices. We worry about free will. We worry about valid and sound reasoning. We concern ourselves with our moral responsibilities. We never stop to concern ourselves with understanding "why." "Why" what? "Why" anything? We are too busy being concerned with the manner in which our lives unfold to stop and ask why our lives unfold the way they do. In the previous post I wrote about the truths that a confused human concludes in the face of a meaningless and absurd world. Still, however, there lacked an understanding of why. My cousin does well to refocus our attention to the why rather than to the how.

All things being equal, we will understand neither the how nor the why... But it would seem that the more relevant futile pursuit would be in trying to understand why I have a deadly form of cancer that threatens my life each day, each hour, each second, each moment rather than trying to figure out some reason as to how this happened to me. Not "why" as in "God, why have you done this to me." By "why" I mean trying to discover what the purpose is for me having this disease. In other words, how am I supposed to "know thy(my)self" through this cancer. If any person in the world can contract this disease, then why has the world decided to give it to me. Remember: our purpose is to find meaning. 

"Life has its own hidden forces which you can only discover by living." - Soren Kierkegaard

Thursday, July 30, 2009

What Does This Mean...

"A human being is spirit. But what is spirit? Spirit is the self. But what is the self? The self is a relation that relates itself to itself or is the relation’s relating itself to itself in the relation.” - Soren Kierkegaard

Let’s face it… Taken on its own, the world seems meaningless and absurd. It is devoid of apparent rhyme or reason. This results in the human confusion in the face of said meaninglessness and absurdity. For me, it is the reflection on my own confusion in the face of a meaningless and absurd world that produces some sort of knowledge of the world. I unveil and elaborate on my thoughts below…

Truths for a Confused Human Facing a Meaningless and Absurd Reality

1. Death

Dying is a part of living. This paradoxical truth is an unavoidable dilemma, and ultimately death is the catalyst that causes us to choose what we have (life) rather than what we do not know of (death). Hamlet’s question “To be, or not to be” was the existential choice we are faced with in our lives. Should we deal with this meaningless and absurd world or should we choose death. The existence of death and the pain we feel in dealing with the existential choice between life and death creates the death-anxiety, or fear of dying. We argue, much like Hamlet, that even though life is often times difficult and unfair and meaningless, that at least we have experienced it and know what it is like, unlike death which we know nothing about. “But that the dread of something after death/… makes us bear those ills we have/ Than fly to others we know not of…” So, we experience anxiety over death and all things associated with death. Senescence – the gradual decay and eventual ceasing of internal processes that sustain life – is the face of impending death. We grow older, our knees creak, our back hurts, high blood pressure forms, heart disease is more prevalent, we become weaker, and so on and so forth. The death-anxiety, conversely, displays within each individual the courage it takes to actually live a life. Each one of you is courageous in that you choose to stare death in the face each day and continue to live your life. You may not see it this way. You may look at me and say I am facing death and my case is tragic, but the truth is my days are very much the same as yours. I contemplate the philosophical implications of imminent death and I have anxiety over it, but ultimately I decide that no matter what obstacle stands in my way I will choose to continue to live. And since neither I nor you can determine when it is we will die our death-anxiety persists, and we live our lives courageously in the face of death for however long it is that we live. But death is unavoidable and when we do inevitably die it will be all by ourselves.

2. Aloneness

Another part of life is aloneness. We enter and exit this world the same way – alone. Most of what constitutes as our lives takes place in the “inner world” between our ears – our thoughts, our wishes, our emotions, our desires. Yet, in a meaningless and absurd world where each day we live in fear of death, living in an inner world only serves to perpetuate the anxieties in life. Relationships – between lovers, familial relationships, cultural relationships, social relationships – are the foundations for our survival. We experience a catharsis (emotional cleansing) of our existential anxieties by engaging in interpersonal relationships, because in these relationships allow us to escape the seeming futility of life by offering us subjective meaning. In a world that is concluded to be meaningless and absurd, the establishing and nourishing of interpersonal relationship allows us to CREATE meaning. Caring about a fiancĂ©e, wife, brother, sister, or friend makes our actions subjectively meaningful. I say subjective because even though our actions will have no universal meaning to the world at large, which has been established as having no meaning, relationships give meaning to our INNER WORLDS. It is the pursuit of interpersonal relationships that establishes intent within our inner worlds, which is where we are free to exercise our option to choose.

3. Freedom

I am resolved that the ability to make a choice (even the illusion that we are making a choice) is the vessel through which our confused souls can face such a meaningless and absurd world. The ability for us to determine what makes us more or less happy and then our ability to actually CHOOSE that thing over others is what makes all the difference in the world. If death and aloneness are the downsides of a world of meaninglessness and absurdity, then freedom is the upside. In essence, if life has no required pathway that needs to be travelled, then our choices are really not about where we are going, but are instead about deciding what we want to do between the time we are born and the time we die. Our choices are about how we want to live our lives. Our freedom allows for creativity in an uncontrollable reality. Everything from paper or plastic to selecting a job says less about where you are going and more about how you want to get there. Ultimately, though, the freedom to choose (the way we want to spend our time while alive) takes orders from the fourth truth for a human facing a meaningless and absurd reality:

4. Meaning

If the world has no intrinsic meaning, then we are free to give our own meaning to life. If reality is meaningless and subject to change depending on our choices, then it is the meaning that we uncover in our subjective lives that will determine the choices we make (or seem to be making), which will decide how our lives will be lived. It is here, at meaning, that all four truths come together. Confused, we exist in a meaningless and absurd world, but we choose life over death because death is not presented to us as a choice. We WILL die, so we CHOOSE life, even if only because we are afraid to die. Once we make that decision, we are faced with our loneliness in an already scary and confusing reality. So, we resolve to establish interpersonal relationships that attach us to certain things and detach us from others. And through these relationships, we are able to uncover those things that make us happy and those things that are important to us… We are able to uncover individualized meaning in an otherwise meaningless existence. This newly discovered meaning acts as a guide in determining how we will exercise our freedom and choose to live our lives.

There are no other things that we can figure out. In a sense it is our destiny to die. But this is not our purpose. Our purpose is to figure out what is meaningful TO US and then to use our freedom to make choices that satiate that meaning.

What I really lack is to be clear in my mind what I am to do, not what I am to know, except in so far as a certain knowledge must precede every action. The thing is to understand myself, to see what God really wishes me to do: the thing is to find a truth which is true for me, to find the idea for which I can live and die.” Soren Kierkegaard.