Maybe Nihilism Isn’t so Bad

by | Apr 9, 2024 | CNF, Issue Thirty-Eight

Dread – that was really the only way I could describe it, the way I would lie awake in my freshman dorm staring at the metal webbing of the bunk bed, feeling the little needle of anxiety start somewhere in the middle of my chest then get stronger and wilder like a twister, black storm clouds colliding against my ribcage making me choke on air, my heart shaking my bones with each overpowered thunder crash – a panic attack triggered always because I had just gotten off the phone with my sweet Grandma, the kindest lady I’ve ever met, but she could never remember my name – the most caring woman I’ve ever met, but she could never remember where she was –

– and when I’d hang up the phone I’d start to think about all those little neurons firing in our brains, the electric impulses that inevitably deaden over time, like putting a damp cloth over a circuit board, like watching an old computer screen glitch and flicker – and then I’d start thinking about outer space and how we come from dust and return to dust, and there was such a cosmic unfairness to it all, such a feeling of disempowerment, the understanding that no amount of love will stop the fated grasp of mortality from tightening around you and everyone else, the understanding that the most significant people in my life are still bound by rope to the base rules of biology – I’d work myself up into a frenzy just thinking about it, writing down the conversations me and Grandma had in black ink in my notebooks, an innocent attempt at immortalization – an act that still left me feeling an unbearable

emptiness –  a huge gaping hole, somewhere under my ribs where they say the soul is supposed to be – and by “they” I mean the spiritualists and the priests and the rabbis, all those people whose teachings I’d stay up at night to read, desperately looking for the right combination of words that would finally make me feel connected to wherever it is we come from, something to soothe my own zealous dread – I’d watch videos of spiritual healings on my phone, watching the participants grow stunned in the presence of divine grace, videos of the elderly getting baptized and weeping for their own exaltation – and I felt jealous and idle –

– and once I spent hours still as stone in the same spot under a tree, meditating on old pagan principles, some sort of ancient philosophies I read in a book from Barnes and Noble – I was trying to connect with the so-called divine energy of the earth, breathing with the wind and the bugs and the grass – but once I opened my eyes I only felt silly and small, I understood nothing better than before, and I felt a straining emptiness balloon inside me and press against my skin, painfully tearing against my lungs and my guts – and worse yet Grandma was still sick – so under that tree I only felt reminded of the turbodriven blackness of an impersonal and meaningless universe – and still I had a desperate and unfilled need to expel the dread from myself, a fervent need for

catharsis– people describe it as a release, a purging – that’s probably what it was then, that time I saw that fifth-wave midwest emo band, Home Is Where – I saw them at that little bar, I think it’s called Mahalls, the one with the zig-zag zebra striped stage and the pink ambience – and I was literally in the middle of a medical emergency during that show (dehydration or some other electrolyte imbalance) and I had stomach cramps so bad I could hardly breath, so bad my mom was threatening to call an ambulance – but I ignored the pain in my chest, I ignored the feeling of my muscles unnaturally twisting into each other – and I still went to that tiny show with thirty other people and my best friend – I did it because I loved my best friend and I loved the music – and as I clutched at my gut, half bent-over, the lead singer outstretched her arms and under the glow of warm fuchsia lights she sang to us:

 “Past the sky, there is more sky.”

and there was something about that matter-of-factness in how she sang it, the gentleness of her voice, the swaying of the audience with the rhythm of softly strummed acoustic guitar, the way my best friend was smiling – past the sky, there is only more sky – we will all grow old and forget our granddaughters names, there is no great and sacred thing to protect us – and despite it all there was beauty in that dive bar in Lakewood Ohio –

– and after the show my best friend asked me if I thought anybody would still be listening to fifth-wave midwest emo bands in the twenty-seventh century, both of us laughing at the silliness of the thought, the impossibility of it – certainly nobody would be listening to that music, certainly nobody would remember the show we went to, certainly nobody would be thinking of me, or her in the distant future, so we laughed some more, laughed in the face of existentialism as we walked back to my car in the cold with a thousand million stars and planets and asteroids and comets twinkling over our heads.

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