If I Look Back, I Am Lost

I wrote most of this a few years ago, but these same thoughts have been creeping back into my mind lately (as these type of things tend to do), and I thought it might be worth sharing again.

There’s a quote from George R.R. Martin‘s A Song of Ice and Fire’ series that I’d like talk (or write, I suppose) about for a couple of minutes. It rocked me when I first read it, and it has stayed in my head ever since. Don’t worry. NO SPOILERS. Hell, I won’t even tell you who says it. The quote is this:

If I look back, I am lost.

This resonates with me in such a profound way. In my own life I find myself constantly afraid of what lies ahead—an emotional/spiritual wilderness where faith, hope, and love are still vitally important, yet refocused in such a way that the concepts themselves seem almost foreign. I’ve really been struggling with this lately. It’s not because I am conflicted about what I believe, or because I am afraid of the bed I’ve made.

Lately it’s been the simple realization of my own mortality.

My daughter and I walked through a cemetery a few years ago. We walked past hundreds of gravestones, burial plots, and concrete crosses. I read names on top of names. If only for a brief moment, there was a time when the world revolved around each one of these names. Everything mattered to every single one of these people. Each happy moment. Each loving embrace. Each dark night of the soul. All of it mattered more than anything had ever mattered before.

Until life ended, and none of it mattered at all—almost as if it had never even happened.

The realization of life invariably ending one day can be gut-wrenching. Everything that I’m reaching for right now will one day cease to matter, and every person that I have ever known will one day fade away.

There will come a day when my name will be said for the very last time—when the person that I am now, every dream, triumph, hope, and disappointment will no longer exist.

There will come a day when all that’s left of me is a name and a couple of dates etched into a stone.

If I’m lucky.

There’s a book in the bible™ named Ecclesiastes, and though I’ve walked away from organized religion, it remains one of my favorite existential crises to date. To borrow a line from Disney’s Beauty & the Beast, the tale that Ecclesiastes tells is a tale as old as time. These verses from the 3rd chapter have both haunted and comforted me for a long time:

For what happens to the children of man and what happens to the beasts is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and man has no advantage over the beasts, for all is vanity. All go to one place. All are from the dust, and to dust all return.

I can’t read those verses without asking myself the same old questions.

Questions like:

What is life? Why are we here? Where do we find a purpose? Where do we find hope?

These questions are tough, and more often than not I’m not up to the task of working through them. I find myself wanting to run back into a world where every question has an answer, and every answer has a footnote.

If I look back, I am lost.

So often I find myself wanting to walk back into the arms of a belief system/worldview that I find to be patently absurd, and only after thinking hard about why have I been able to shake the dust off of my sandals and keep walking.

You see, I’m not afraid of eternal punishment, and I’m not afraid of missing out on an eternal paradise. I’m definitely not afraid of severing relationships and burning bridges when they’ve grown too perilous to walk on. Though I do hate the idea of being lonely, it isn’t something that I would say that I fear.

What I think I really fear is waking up one day when I’m old and grey, having living nothing but a shell of the life that I could have lived—a passionless, purposeless, waste of the blink-of-an-eye that I was given.

My first inclination in these moments is to search for purpose and meaning in places where I’ve searched for it before. It’s amazing, because although I have never found peace in those places, it’s painfully aware that I’m programmed to seek it there. These moments often leave me reeling—staying up deep into the night, staring into the blackness of my bedroom, fighting, fighting, fighting.

If I look back, I am lost.

It has always taken a proverbial act of congress, but I have to remind myself of one truth—one of the simplest truths of all: that the remainder of my journey lies ahead of me.

Here’s to becoming more and more aware of the world around me, and finding more and more peace in my place in it.

If I look back, I am lost.

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FEATURE IMAGE: Photo by Vlad Bagacian on Unsplash