Nihilism is the belief that there is no meaning or purpose in existence.
I am guessing it is the result of the last few days of gloomy weather — probably a foretaste of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) — but the above definition is an atmosphere I am seeing begin to appear in our society. The word is nihilism. In the extreme, it is a nasty philosophy that says nothing matters.
There is also the biblical “eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die” (Ecclesiastes, Isaiah). Whichever definition of life calls to you, neither does humanity much good.
When I checked today there were 40.2 million cases of Covid in the world. 27.6 million of those cases had recovered, but 1.12 million deaths have been recorded. I wrote that out to look at the zeroes — 1,012,000. The human race deals better with things we can touch, smell, see, hear and taste so looking at a series of numbers doesn’t do much for me. I can’t wrap my head around the human suffering unless it touches me, personally.
Many years ago I was traveling in India on a summer Fulbright program for teachers. When we were in Calcutta, we attended a concert which ended just about the time people were getting off work for the day. I was sitting in the bus when the driver turned the headlights on. Suddenly the population of India at 1,353,000,000 people became real to me. As far as I could see there were people moving. I imagined if I stepped off the bus I could have walked down the street on the heads of those passing by. Real people on their way home from jobs. Going to families to have dinner. To play with their children. To check on their elderly parents. And on and on I imagined their lives. Absolutely no different from mine. I have never forgotten that experience. Whenever I begin to be too self important, too self centered I think of the billions of people who are just like me. The human family — every color and language and culture God made possible.
The Covid virus has exposed our vulnerability and we don’t like it. The pandemic prevents us from doing the things we want to do. It is easy to become like a pouty, self-serving child when we don’t get our way. We begin to imagine that nothing matters but this moment and so whatever we do is okay. We imagine that we might as well party today because death might come to us tomorrow and we never think about those others whose lives cross paths with our own.
Edgar Allen Poe wrote a short story entitled “The Masque of the Red Death”. A group of wealthy people flee to a country estate to escape the plague wiping out the city in which they live. They feel fortunate to have gotten away from the threat of death. What they don’t know is that death will crash the party and they will all die. The theme of the story is the inevitability of death.
We can live with that idea of inevitability. But what can happen is that we lose our humanity and any compassion is quickly destroyed. As long as we live we need to care for each other. Life is not about me nor is it about you, but it is about “us” and how we can improve what time we have and make it good for everyone.