This I Believe

Zachary - Syracuse, New York
Entered on September 2, 2008
Age Group: 18 - 30

Have you ever had a nightmare while you were completely awake? I have, and it is the same one every time. And it ends the same way every time. And I’ve had it again and again for as long as I can remember. But here’s the worst part: it will all come true.

Children are often introduced to the concept of death at an early age. Whether from the death of a grandparent, a family pet or just a dried up worm on the sidewalk, parents cannot for long avoid spoiling their children’s innocence by cluing them in to the ultimate disappointment of this life: it must end. Everyone has their own way of coping with this inevitability, but I was consumed by it.

As I would lie in my bed at night as a toddler, I could feel it start to come over me like a sneeze or a yawn. I would then become overwhelmed with thoughts of death, ceasing to exist and feeling nothing for the remainder of the universe, for the rest of time. The fear was crippling. I couldn’t move. Eventually I could muster up the strength to run crying into my mother’s arms begging her please never to let me die. This scene was not an uncommon occurrence. My toddler years were spent praying death would pass me by.

As I grew a little older, and indeed a little wiser, I accepted death as an inevitability, and turned my attention to life itself. As I entered puberty, and with it the most awkward social years of my life, other things become of greater importance to me. I was now consumed by trying to make friends, get with girls and have fun. And like most teenagers, I began asking questions like why must I feel the pain of rejection? Why must the human condition be one of constant insecurity, stress and fear? Why is life made up of so many miserable moments? If I was only going to be on this planet for a little while, I wanted to spend it in a constant state of bliss, not worrying about whether girls liked me or if I had cool enough friends. I started asking, what’s the point? What kind of cruel joke is life? I think Woody Allen put it best when he said life is “full of loneliness, and misery, and suffering, and unhappiness, and it’s all over much too quickly.”

I spent the first 20 years of my life trying to figure out how to feel about life and death. And in 20 years I had made zero progress. But then, just a minute and a half into Annie Hall, something clicked. My whole life I’d been afraid not to exist, not to feel, while at the same time cursing such feelings as misery and unhappiness. I realized these are some of the most powerful emotions a human can experience. This is what life is about. Of course everyone wants to be happy. But if we were nothing but happy all the time, we would become so numb to it it would be like feeling nothing at all. It is those feelings of stress and insecurity that get the blood pumping through our veins; it is those feelings at which I used to cringe but now embrace.

So what is it that I believe? I believe that life is a blessing, every miserable little detail. I believe that life is great, even though not always good. I believe that every feeling I experience makes this life worthwhile; even the ones that I hate to feel; especially the ones that I hate to feel. I believe that I should embrace every feeling I have. And finally, I believe that I would rather feel miserable than nothing at all.