I’ve been facing a sort of existential crisis recently, and I think it started with my reading of Between the Monster and the Saint by Richard Holloway, which talked about the humanistic movement and what it meant to be human (not much, it seems).
I enjoyed the book thoroughly, reading it any time and every time I had some time to spare, and it had such an impact on me that for the days I read it and the weeks that followed, I couldn’t help by seriously think about what my life meant (not much, it seems).
There was once I was in a bus on my way to work when a dialogue popped into my head from out of nowhere. It was a short little thing, and it went like this:
Oldish man says to young man: “you want to know how significant you are? Think about your life, what you’re doing now and what you’ll do down the road… Think of all the achievements you’ll have. Pretty big, huh? Now, zoom forward a hundred years. Tell me what you see. Zoom forward another hundred years. Yes, my son, that’s how significant you are!”
Though, depending on your disposition, you could well see yourself being hailed as a conquering hero a couple of hundred years on after you die, while this dialogue played in my head, thoughts like that were furthest from my mind, and it was really the opposite that I had been thinking about.
What that young man was thinking, I thought to myself, as he zoomed through the years were about the marks he had left — little acts of vandalism; snide remarks; academic achievements; career-making software development — and how they slowly faded from view as the years went on. After a couple of hundred years, he couldn’t imagine himself having the slightest impact at all, and this thought of insignificance made him bow his head in shame.
These kinds of thoughts haven’t been uncommon to me of late. Occasionally, droning through the most routine of tasks, I’d take pause and think about what the **** I was doing. And it’s been only too often that I’d be reading some technical material and suddenly think about whether or not the author thought about life and whether it was worth living. Perhaps optimised database design leads to 42?