Existentialism says that people are fundamentally alone. We live our own lives, never sharing our experiences with others. We all die alone. Suffering transcends language, destroying it to a point in which it cannot be shared. Thus, we will apparently all suffer alone. But all of this is only true if you draw a line around yourself and assume that it ends there. Yes, you will always be alone if you only ever consider yourself to be your mind and body.
But if we assume a broader definition of our identities, then we are never truly alone. I am not just the mind and body I carry, and nor are you. Our identities extend beyond that, to include the experiences and memories we have given others, and to include our footprints and the vibrations of the songs we have played. I am not just the person typing on this laptop right now. I am the reason someone shows her teeth when she smiles every day. I am the yellow flower sitting on someone else’s desk at home. I am the thank-you note tucked away in someone’s nightstand drawer. I’m kind of everywhere at the same time.
These are remnants of memories that happened years ago, but I cannot imagine the small ways in which I’ve changed others. I don’t know who I am, because I can’t imagine my butterfly effect, how the footprint I leave today will impact people centuries later.
The same goes for you. You cannot begin to imagine how you have affected me. You won’t know if you’re the reason I found my new favorite song, or if your memories are what made me smile today. That’s unless I choose to tell you, but the majority of these moments are left hidden away. We have a tendency to want to see the consequences of our actions, to want to watch someone’s reaction when they open our gifts. But sometimes, we have to know that we can’t see the consequences, and just pay it forward anyway.
What is my point? The day before yesterday, Mr. Adams told me, “Aren’t we all just mixtures of other people?” and it changed the way I thought about myself. It’s true. When we love people, we take after them. We say the things they would say, we think about what they might be thinking, we wonder how they might react. In a way, they are there with us in these moments.
I still think about the way my favorite teachers impacted me in 8th grade. Those were good memories with good people. Even though we do not talk anymore, they are still with me in the ways I think about life every single day. They probably do not think about that, nor can I necessarily point to a specific moment in which I thought, “Yes, I thought like that today because of this person.” It doesn’t even matter. I’m a homogeneous mixture of these people — everyone I have ever loved.
And in that way, I am never truly alone in life, because I am connected to these people no matter how far away we are. It’s a connection that can’t be broken. I’ve already been changed by them, and they have already changed me.
When I read a book, or listen to a song, their thoughts are embedded into the way I think. I can appreciate that the reason I draw a connection in a book or a song is because it reminded me of some distant memory, something I shared with another person — even if I can’t pinpoint which memory it is. Maybe they aren’t reading that line along with me, but — in spirit — they kind of are.
I live through others, and others are alive through me. That makes me feel less alone.