[commentary] When the City Makes You Feel Small


[commentary] When the City Makes You Feel Small

January 2016

I think that in this Life, we as humans are always struggling to make meaning of our existence. We are always grappling with how insignificant we are in the grand scheme of things. Do you ever feel so small as you walk around the tall silver towers of the city, one atom surrounded by thousands of other people? 

The first step is to identify this emotion as a fundamental source of agony and recognize how this agony pulses quietly throughout most of us, and is in many cases responsible for many of our behaviors. (Ernest Becker has written the best book on this subject called the Denial of Death. He observes that drugs, consumer purchases, sex, violence, oppression, and all sorts of malevolence can often be understood as frantic attempts to ease this agony.) The second step is to learn to make meaning out of this aspect of our condition. Both of these steps take some time.

The first step happened for me my first year of college as I paid attention to by day to day feelings and how they changed as I walked through different spaces; it also happened as I began interrogating my deep desire to become famous and exceptional, a desire which I’ve had ever since I was young.

The second step occurred for me only recently. I went through a period of intense alienation and confusion, blown away by the chaos of social life and overwhelmed by its galactic magnitude. But I was able to spin a new narrative that accounted for this agony, and made meaning out of it. I came to terms with these feelings of insignificance and meaningless by realizing that- yes, to the Universe we are nothing but microscopic lights and tiny specks of dust; but to our Loved Ones, to our friends and our families, we are magnificent Suns. We are the source of their winters, summers, autumns, and springs. Our words and actions can make their skies thunder or shine. Our gifts and touch are what makes their dusks deep red and their dawns light blue. Our daily choices and the love we give, are the rays that nourish the green leaves of their being.

Though we may have to constantly fight to remember it, the individual life can indeed be significant, and it can indeed be meaningful.