GUVERCIN: Ephemerality of life can serve as motivation
Column: The Bigger Picture
As I have grown up, I have come to understand that one of the most significant realizations one must come to, and eventually does come to, is that life is truly temporary.
The thing with clichés is that they are often overlooked and underestimated due to the frequency with which they are referenced, when in reality, the reason they are clichés is because they really do reflect reality.
One of the most common phrases in daily discourse is “time passes so fast,” because it is such a prevalent realization that humans share. It surfaces during times where the past is referenced in the present. If you look at every experience you have encountered in your life up until this very moment where you are reading this sentence, you will realize that you have witnessed several birthdays, graduations, milestones, struggles, transitions, exams, happy moments and have watched many people come and go.
While it seems so real in the moment, they are now an abstract construct in your distant memory that is completely unattainable until you revisit them once in a while and realize how quickly they have passed.
There are certainly aspects of ephemerality that make the human condition unbearable at times — even when you are living through a happy moment, your realization that it will pass dulls its luster and pleasantness.
One of its hardest consequences is especially perceivable when it comes to the time we spend and have left with our loved ones. Every day we see the wrinkles on our parents’ face grow deeper, our little siblings and cousins in diapers one day and in school uniforms the next, our childhood friends whom we spent all our days with become nothing further than an occasional “happy birthday” message and the reflection in our mirror becoming more and more unfamiliar.
We know from experience how limited our time is with our loved ones, and this puts a burden on us to understand their value when we have not yet lost them. In the face of such a temporary life that promises to take those we love away with its passing moments, it is easy to fall into a trap of helplessness and surrender. But this is not the way things have to be.
In fact, I believe that the very temporary nature of life and our experiences are reasons for purpose and action. There are truly very few things outside of survival that motivates many humans to live, and those who discover the meaning behind ephemerality are of those who have truly achieved a sense of a greater purpose. In its simplest terms and psychology, the fact that something will be lost increases its value in the moment if we are aware of the very fact that we will eventually lose it.
Time is of highest value, for it is almost universally recognized as “going by fast.” It demonstrates that you have no opportunity other than right now to do something meaningful or worthwhile, or simply, be able to genuinely appreciate what you have. Moreover, the temporary nature of the world around us reflects a reality regarding ourselves, our own imminent death.
With such a realization in mind, we come to acknowledge how precious every breath we take is and can be motivated to make the most of how much we have left. By acknowledging the ephemerality of our own lives, we can also understand that certain things and people are not necessarily worth our time, for as long as they are not providing us an opportunity to learn, grow and become better people, their value is lost in the shadow of the time we have left. The fact that our time is so limited is reason enough to make the most of it.
So what do we do in light of our recognized transience?
I would say the most important thing is appreciation. Appreciate that all of those times where struggles surmounted and life became too much to bear were mere minutes in the hour of life. They, too, pass. Appreciate that you still have at least today with your loved ones, and make sure they are aware of the value you place on them. Appreciate that you are alive and are someone capable of creating purpose for him or herself.
Appreciation is not quite enough because you still have to create that purpose. Therefore, recognizing the fact that each second is ticking by and a year seems to have passed within a day is a significant starting point in which we can put our lives into perspective and devote our time to worthwhile things.
Dilara Guvercin is a School of Arts and Sciences senior majoring in psychology and minoring in philosophy. Her column, "The Bigger Picture," runs on alternate Fridays.
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