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I wish not to be happy, but to see beauty

I am an atheist. I am a scientific thinker. I do not believe in alternate endings or second chances. I believe the life we have here on this earth is a finite one. When I first came to be atheist, this scared me. Death scared me. The meaning of life scared me. In my fear I frantically grasped for some cold rational meaning to life. Why are we here? Easy, my brain would spit back, because those species whom were motivated to reproduce are still here. But what is the point? I would ask. Easy again, to reproduce. Jesus brain, fine then, what should I find enjoyable about life here? Easy again, all of the things you are prewired to find pleasurable, like eating, sleeping, and sex. From this frustrating loop of logic I came to the melancholy response that the meaning of life was simply to be happy. And one could achieve happiness by living a life our ancestors lived which promotes an increase in serotonin, ending in, voila, feelings of happiness.

Now I don't completely disagree with my previous idea. Doing behaviors which naturally release happy hormones is not a bad way to go. What I realized however, was, that the meaning of life isn't to be happy. The meaning of life is to find beauty here (at least it is for me).

I have struggled with anxiety and depression for a few years now (about 6 or so). I had it the worst in high school. I largely learned to overcome it by facing my fears, but I still get pangs of it now and again to contend with. It was from my journey through anxiety and depression that I truly got to experience some of the worlds most beautiful moments.

In the worst of it, I was not happy for long periods of time. I was afraid I would never be happy. I thought happiness was the only reason to live. But it was in these moments of complete vulnerability, when I needed people most, and with  my eyes averted, head down in embarrassment, cautiously searching my hand around in the dark for one that would reach back, that I truly experienced the depth of beauty in human beings. And in those moments, I realized, it was not happiness that made the world meaningful, but beauty.

Just recently I have begun to meet weekly with a friend of mine who is working through chronic depression to support her and talk with her. The first time we met my anxiety had sprung up on me after many years of normalcy. I truly wanted to talk with her about her issues and what was bothering her. We did talk about that, but she persistently asked about how I was doing. I embarrassingly cried as I tried to answer her delicate questions. That burst of waterworks that releases when someone shows compassion. That bottling up that uncorks a bit, relieving pressure. I kept trying to change it back to her, this wasn't about me, but she persistently would redirect the conversation, asking me about how I was doing. And despite her troubles and her depression, she was the one that was there for me and helped me through that day. I had been unhappy and depressed for a few days leading up to that meeting. For the rest of the day I couldn't help but smile. Not because I was happy, but because I knew the world was beautiful, and that was better than being happy.

When I think back, I think of all the people in my life that were utterly beautiful. That were there for me when they absolutely didn't need to be. I think of boyfriends parents who would shuttle me under their wing as their own daughter. I think of my first roommate who lent me 60 dollars when I first moved in and had no money, and refused to let me give it back for a week. I think of my boyfriend kissing me on the cheek when I apologized because I couldn't stop crying and saying "it's okay". I think of my friend who is transgender and was transitioning cry as I hugged them and said it was okay to be who they were. I think of all the people who opened up to me about their stories, their lives, and their vulnerabilities.

Sometimes the world scares me. As someone who studies climate change, I cannot help but be unsure of what the fate of the world will be within my lifetime. This used to distress me. But now, I know, that even though I don't know what the end result will be, I know that in my lifetime I will see people working together, hand in hand to build the world they want to see. I will be there for people who are vulnerable, and them for me. I know the road to a brighter future comes with community, and I know damn well it will be beautiful. I am not afraid of what the world will be when I die any longer, because I know the road to the end will be beautiful regardless, and that is what matters.


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