I’ve probably exchanged over 500 emails with Miguel over the course of a couple of years. And not short little emails, either. We’re talking the long winded 1,000 word emails where you scroll back up to look at everything you’ve typed and you’re honestly shocked that you could vomit so much into the Gmail app on your iPhone.
On top of that, I’ve spent right around 20 hours on Skype with Miguel. That’s a lot of time to spend on someone that you’ve never actually met in person.
Miguel was an online client of mine for a long time. We connected immediately. He grew up about 90 minutes from where I did. We talked about Mexican food, the Dallas Cowboys, women, and his diet. His diet was the pretext in which everything began. That’s why he hired me. We even had the same area code.
It didn’t take very long to see that he was going to be a challenge as a client. He grew up in a strict Mexican household that lived on rice and beans and pork. Which are all delicious but aren’t exactly ideal when you’re trying to drop over 100lbs.
Every single bit of Miguel’s environment was set up against him. He grew up in the kind of place where you live in a trailer with your mom, dad, aunts, and cousins. And you have more cousins who live in the trailer next door. And that’s why we got along. I got that. It reminded me of home. I spent more time than I can remember eating tamales in Mexican households just like that.
There was a level of familiarity with Miguel’s world that I had that most suburban white kids can’t relate to. And that’s why we worked well.
Until we didn’t.
It was about a year and a half into our time together that he hit a major plateau and he was dealing with some major frustration. We were on Skype call on a Saturday afternoon during that weird lull between the 3 pm college football games and the primetime game at 8 pm. We purposefully scheduled our calls around this time because we knew we’d both be available and slightly drunk, so it made calls more fun.
And it was that Saturday that Miguel asked me a question that has truthfully haunted me for well over 3 years now. It’s a question I still can’t actually answer, but I’m going to do my best to try.
In a moment of obvious frustration and being pissed off at what he saw in the mirror Miguel looked straight into his grainy camera and said, “Why the hell does all of this matter anyways? We all die.”
That question rocked me. I’m pretty sure I felt the very foundation that I stood on crumble because in twelve words he challenged every single thing about my life. But not only my life. He challenged the entire history of great people striving for great things. And there’s a part of me that hates him for it.
But after a lot of time and working it over I know that I don’t hate him. I hate his question. I hate the question, “what does it matter?”
That’s the kind of carelessness and obsequious approach to life that is basically death in spoken word.
Sure, it may not be literal death. You can feel that way and still have a body. You can say hello to people. You can smile and wave. You can even have a conversation with others. But make no mistake, you are still dead. You are just dead on the inside. You are a walking corpse without any inhabitants on the inside.
That sounds worse than actual death. It sounds worse than becoming the living dead and being an extra in a zombie movie. Zombies have at least committed. They’re dead inside and don’t have anything going on in their head because they can’t.
But walking around every day of your life wondering what is the point? That’s not even respectable. That’s contemptible. That’s a lack of dedication.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s still living in your corporeal form. It’s walking this Earth and having to go about all of the daily things that life requires you to do. It’s having to brush your teeth, pay your taxes, and wait in lines at the coffee shop while you hate all of the people in front of you who order drinks that are entirely too complicated.
All of those things constitute the act of being alive. But you can take part in those things and not be alive. All because you’re dead inside. All because you think that nothing matters. And because nothing matters you’ve started down a slippery slope that leads to some very dark places. Namely the death of your soul.
I’m not here to tell you that it’s what is on the inside that matters because frankly, I’m not sure if that’s the case. Instead, I’m here to tell you that it’s the trying that actually matters. It’s the working to be better and to continually improve your lot in life. Because that’s really the only choice you have.
There’s a French philosopher named Albert Camus who is most famous for ripping apart the myth of Sisyphus in this very manner.
As legend has it Sisyphus is doomed for eternity by the Gods to roll a rock up a hill only to see it roll back down once he makes it to the top. The myth is well known and the phrase “Sisyphean effort” has been coined thanks to this timeless display of meaningless toiling.
But Camus came in and obliterated the idea of that toiling being meaningless in one brilliant essay all by proposing that we have no choice but to believe that Sisyphus was happy about it. Why? Because it’s the only choice he had. Working was his only option, so it was his job to find joy in it. And I think that’s what our life is like.
We as human beings who have a finite time on this planet. We had parents, grandparents, and on down the line who lived on this Earth before us for a finite period of time. They were born and then they died.
But you know what the most important words in that previous sentence are?
Not that they died. No, though it’s easy to allow yourself to think that. No. The most important words are, “and then.”
Because with those two words we signify a life. We hold in those two words all of the lies and heartbreaks they were responsible for. And we also hold the love and compassion they gave the world. Those two words carry every single thing that each and every person has ever done to move the human race forward.
The past serves to inspire and inform us. But is still in the past. It is still behind us. We have moved beyond it for a reason. We are not to return. Instead, we are to use the lessons of the past as something that moves us forwards. We are to take those lessons and apply them so that we can become better people.
Why though? Why does it matter?
You know why it fucking matters? It matters because the alternative is living in hell. Not the hell that Dante wrote about. The hell that makes up a torturous existence where you can’t bear the thought of having to get up each and every single day and face the world.
Hell may be a real place and it may not. We don’t know. But we do know that hell can be found here on Earth. Go find an addict or someone in the darkest days of depression. Someone who finds so much pain in the very thought of actually living that they’d rather choose hell. That is where “What does it matter?” gets you.
It matters because when you do things that are right and just and proper you notice that. You recognize that you feel better when doing those things, and that should be all the reasoning you need.
We’re equipped with all that we need to make sense of this world within our intuition. That intuition speaks to what is right and wrong. When you listen to that intuition and doing right and it is responding by making you feel good then you need to take that as a sign damn it. Because you are doing right. And doing right is what moves the world forward.
But still, you might ask, why? What does it matter?
It matters because when you start doing things that don’t make you feel good by doing the wrong things you’re hurt. You’re a hurt individual. You become someone who takes from this world and this life without properly giving back.
And make no mistake, you cannot just take without giving back. There is no free lunch. Everything must be paid for.
When you’re not oriented to what is right and acting in a manner that is wrong, you still know it. Deep down you’re aware. Very few people in the history of this world are actually evil. History is littered with people who thought they were right, only to be proved wrong by the relentless onslaught of time.
That kernel of truth may be hiding in the innermost corner of their soul, but it’s there. It doesn’t go away. Even when the light of good has been dampened thanks to decades and decades of dark behavior.
And when you’re that person who is sick and bringing pain into the world with your behavior you infect those around you. You become an agent of chaos. You are responsible for hurting those around you with your actions and causing undue pain for no reason other than your actions bring it.
You become the harbinger of destruction. All with one single lie piled on top of another.
It’s behaviors like that which lead to the creation of regimes which wreak havoc upon the Earth. Those regimes are controlled by people who have lied so much in their lives that nearly every last little bit of the truth has been stamped out.