Learning to appreciate the fleetingness of life

By STEPHANIE LEE | April 18, 2019

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There haven’t been many moments that have shocked me much since August. Sure, moving to college and taking my first midterms — ever — were two eventful things but nothing unexpected. 

Watching all my fellow peers succumb to severe waves of the freshman plague was pretty alarming, considering that the future doctors of America caused epidemics of hand, foot and mouth, whooping cough, pneumonia and mono and needed posters with hand washing instructions. That was unexpected, but I was far more concerned than surprised. Seeing my two-month-old baby cousin for the first time over spring break was surprising since I was actually spending time with someone under the age of 18, but it wasn’t that shocking.

A few days later, however, I was really shocked.

I think it’s hard to not be impacted by death, especially if it’s the death someone you knew. I actually didn’t know him personally and knew more of him through mutual friends — he was two years ahead of me back in high school. But since we were both involved with school publications and speech and debate, I ended up knowing a lot of his friends and seeing him around campus frequently. It was like a blow to the stomach to see his face pictured in a statement released by his university.

Hearing news of a high school peer’s passing launched me into a sort of existential crisis. I’ve lost a couple of relatives in the past few years, and more recently, every time my parents broke the news it felt less and less real. I felt more and more removed from the reality of death, the absoluteness and seeming emptiness of it. 

Reading about my former peer’s death snapped me back into having to face the reality of our mortality and made me remember how temporary everything is.

That’s the thing, though. For something so fragile, we take life far too much for granted — we assume that there will always be a tomorrow. We put so much stock in the fact that we’ll have time down the line that we’re terrified of it being taken away from us. We’re terrified of death.

Think about life. If you look at it through a scientific, calculated lens, it’s pretty damn depressing. We’re born, we learn, we grow from children to adults. We work for the rest of our lives, hopping from week to week, battling through each weekday before submerging ourselves in the weekend. When viewed through this lens, it’s boring and it sucks.

But what if things don’t have to be that way? What if life doesn’t have to be a constant war to reach each weekend?

I sat still at my computer after reading that statement released by his school and paused, thinking everything through. Life’s even shorter than we think we it is — it could end at any given moment, but this isn’t something that we need to despair over. We might not be able to choose when we pass, but we can decide almost everything in between.

Given this situation, why not choose goodness? Why not be kind to ourselves and let ourselves be a bit happier?

Hayao Miyazaki, one of the creators of Studio Ghibli, a Japanese anime film studio, has stated many times that he wants children to know that though life is harsh, life is also beautiful if you learn to appreciate the small things that come with it. Choosing to be a good person, to be kind and to think positively about life makes a large difference. We’re all only here for so long — so why not make the best and most of our time?

These simple changes can make a large difference not only in our own lives but also in the lives of those around us. It’s clear that choosing to spread kindness rather than negativity makes us better people — there’s simply no point in being awful to others. Life is so much better when we are able to love and accept the love of others. 

I then knew what to do. I turned on my phone and texted my family that I loved them, thanking them for loving me and supporting me through thick and thin. I texted my best friends that they meant so much to the world — their worth was unparalleled to any numerical value. Last, I messaged my friends and my sorority sisters that I loved them and to treat everyone with goodness.

I’m a big believer that regret is one of the worst feelings in the world. Call it irrational, but my worst fear is saying or doing something I regret to someone I love and never seeing them again. It’s difficult — impossible, even — to live life clear of regrets. But I think there are many ways to circumvent many situations of regret, and treating someone with genuine kindness helps clear your slate of the negative feeling. It’s always better to regret treating someone better than they deserve than worse.

You only have a certain amount of days, and you don’t know how many. Life is as happy or as depressing as you make it; it’s your choice, and even small fixes in your way of viewing situations or your own lifestyle can make a big difference. Seeing the love you’re surrounded with and choosing to pay it forward makes your environment around you better, one act at a time. I’m choosing to love and be loved by everyone around me, and I’m choosing kindness above all.

And of everything that’s shocked me so far this past year, I’d say how much more positive and lighter I’ve felt since making that conscious decision was definitely one of them.

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