I have never learned as much about myself in one period than in the holiday break of 2003. You see, the break came one week after breaking up with my girlfriend of nearly two years. In the midst of my relationship, I focused all of my self-image, thoughts and hopes for the future on one person. Thus, when the overwhelming busyness of the semester died down and the one thing that had occupied my world was gone, I faced the terrifying reality that I had let almost every other aspect of my life atrophy to the point of feeling as if I needed to re-introduce myself to my family, friends, books, hobbies and even my church.
This phenomenon is not limited to breakups; it often affects college students, whether it be in the form of focusing too much on one’s grades at the expense of a vibrant social life or vice versa, or even focusing on partying and having ‘fun’ over and above any thought of what the hell one is going to do after college. Whatever the case, when the thing you single-mindedly focused on is over, the empty feeling sets in and you either have to redefine who you are, or retreat to the dark corner of your room and curl into the fetal position.
At the core, this phenomenon can be traced to the fear of death, which results in the fear of being cosmically insignificant. The fear of death causes people to deny its inevitability by constructing a protective canopy of death-denying significance. For instance, after my breakup, I went through a period where I believed I was insignificant and weak without having someone there who was culturally required to consider me the most significant person in the world.
In fact, many people have done many crazy and even evil things to avoid this empty feeling. The German people embraced Hitler in a large part because he filled the emptiness left by the loss of collective identity established by the humbling demise of Germany’s military and economic power. They replaced it with national purpose that gave people a sense of identity, a sense of being part of something significant.
While there is no surefire way to cure this common fear (some theorists even believe it is the root of all violence), I think it is supremely important to be mindful of the inevitability of death. Even if you believe in an afterlife, the fact remains that worldly life is fleeting. While there are very important things in life, such as family, friends and faith, they become harmful and deceptive when used as a hedge against facing the inevitability of death. Nothing we do on earth can make us significant enough to defeat worldly death. While my message is a bit simplistic, it is the most important lesson I have ever learned; rather than denying death, simply enjoy and make the most out of life.
Kip Brown is a senior religion major from Enid, Okla.