As a little kid, I used to look up into the infinite night sky and feel hypnotized; It was as confusing as it was magnificent. (Of course, my fascination with outer space had nothing to do with the fact that I was convinced aliens existed, and they were headed right to my bedroom to bring me to my doom…) At a time when I was trying to figure out the world around me, and discover what reality meant, the blackness of space was incomprehensible. Out in the infinite vastness, I couldn’t even see anything that looked remotely familiar from my science class. We learned about our solar system with coloful diagrams that showed the other gigantic planets in comparison to Earth. Yet when I looked up at night, I saw nothing but tiny pinpricks. The magnitude of the galaxy was stupefying, and also oddly calming.
I remember asking myself, “If space is infinite, and Earth is nothing but a grain of sand in comparison to everything else, why do we matter? Why do our mistakes, our stress, our rules mean anything? If we’re nothing but grains of sand, why can’t we just do whatever we want? In the end, it means no difference to the universe.”
This thought followed shortly after : “If the universe is infinite and we will never be able to explore all of it, then how do we know for sure that aliens don’t exist?” Hey, I can’t disagree with my little self—I still think I had a point. My parents, however, weren’t so amused with my logic and how it related to aliens—they just told me I had an overactive imagination. See what they had to deal with ?
But the idea that maybe we don’t need to be governed by rules or stress or obligations that we create ourselves is something I forgot along the way. I am now a grown-up governed by made-up rules, and more often than not, I forget to look up at night, relax, and reclaim a bit of comfort in feeling free.
This memory popped into my head during my French literature class, of all places. We were discussing the philosopher Camus and his interpretation of the meaning of our existence and its absurdity; we try to assign meaning to our existence through systems of belief, but it had no inherent meaning to begin with. We can become conscious of the lack of meaning of our existence, realize that this makes us free, and thus we can make the most of our time here by living with passion. Cool. As we discussed how this philosophy plays out in absurd anti-theater by Ionesco, my brain clicked. These guys were writing about an idea that resonated with one of my earliest difficult questions about life.
Of course, Camus wrote about existentialism and the Absurd after witnessing the horrors of World War II, and my little brain tickle stemmed from an irrational fear of killer aliens. So I can’t take any credit for originality, but all the same, it’s comforting to reintroduce myself to this idea, like I’ve come full cycle. I’m only a little less confused about this life thing than I was when I was a kid, and after all I’ve been through to get here, it’s funny how revisiting an old unanswerable question is enough to shed some light and give me hope.