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  • Writer's pictureNatalia Madrigal

How I Cope With Death

Growing up, I’ve always had difficulty grappling with the idea of my existence. One of my earliest memories is of me trying to articulate the weird sensation I felt (which I can now identify as anxiety) when I thought too much about how I perceive the world around me as “side characters” and that there’d be a day where I wouldn’t be able to anymore. And then what?

Being raised Catholic, I was always told that there would be an afterlife, but even at my highly impressionable age, I couldn’t fathom that there would be a sort of fantasy land where my spirit goes after I stop existing. To phrase it bluntly, I’ve always felt that God/Jesus is to Catholics what Santa Claus is to children. I also maintain that Catholicism is rooted in colonialism, which furthers my belief that it’s a ruse (lots to unpack there).

So, if there’s no God and no afterlife, then what’s the meaning of life? What’s the point of doing anything if, in the end, nothing I do matters? This dilemma would always send me into an anxious spiral, and depending on the day, it could bring me to tears. This idea is typically known as absurdism. It centers around the inherent conflict or contradiction between the human desire to find meaning and purpose in life and the apparent absence of inherent meaning or rationality in the midst of mortality. The universe is meaningless by nature, so we can consider our attempts to decipher life and death or to find meaning in them pointless or irrational. Death, being a part of this existential condition, emphasizes the absurdity of looking for the ultimate purpose in a universe that seems apathetic to human concerns.

Although absurdism pushes for a realization of life's fundamental meaninglessness and a confrontation with it, this recognition can definitely be emotionally taxing. This ideology may be seen by some as depressing or gloomy, which could heighten feelings of pessimism or nihilism, particularly in people who find it difficult to get by in life without a distinct sense of direction or significance.

In Thomas Nagel's The Absurd, he begs the question: "If a sense of the absurd is a way of perceiving our true situation (even though the situation is not absurd until the perception arises), then what reason can we have to resent or escape it?” Understanding our human limitations is what brings about these feelings of despair, but it doesn't have to be a big source of agony unless we decide to make it that way. We don't have to put on a show of defiance against fate just to feel brave or important. If we act all dramatic about it, whether in public or secretly, it shows that we're failing to grasp how insignificant our situation is in the grand scheme of things. When we look at life from a cosmic perspective, realizing that nothing really matters means that even that realization doesn't matter. So, instead of trying to put on a brave façade or feeling super down about it all, we can approach our absurd lives with a sense of irony.

I find solace in the liberation that comes from embracing the absurdity of existence, though it has taken an intellectualization and acceptance process to get from struggling with the meaninglessness of life to finding comfort in it. For many people, realizing that life is fundamentally meaningless can be a heavy burden, but it doesn't have to be a source of perpetual sadness. I find myself thinking about Nagel's question: Why hide or harbor resentment toward the absurd when it's just a lens through which we view our circumstances? The cosmic observation that nothing matters in the end, even when we acknowledge this, challenges us to see our absurd (or even ridiculous) existence with irony.

This sort of sardonic perspective allows me to live more freely and truthfully in a world devoid of intrinsic value due to this approach to navigating existence with a buoyant acceptance of its inherent ridiculousness. Ultimately, in a universe devoid of a final objective, the irony is in the way we choose to cherish the short time we have left.



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