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In which John recalls an afternoon at the airport.

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Good morning Hank, it's Tuesday!


I recently found myself at an airport, as I often do, sitting at the gate waiting for my flight to board and I couldn’t stop thinking about how everyone in the airport would, within a century or so, be dead.


Which, in and of itself, isn’t that worrisome to me, like I think about that a lot when I'm in a room full of strangers- look at all of these people gathered together at gate A7 by a shared desire to go to Detroit on a Wednesday afternoon.


And I think about how one day soon this moment will feel distant and we'll find it odd that in 2019 people worried about X or believed Y or wore clothing item Z. And this present moment will feel fixed and distant like an old picture does- like history.


And then eventually this moment will be entirely forgotten because all of the people who shared it will be gone and isn't it kind of absurd how temporary we are despite all our efforts to feel permanent; the pictures we save; the emails we archive; the luggage we buy with a lifetime guarantee, as if a lifetime is a long time.


All of which, I would argue, is totally normal and healthy stuff to think about when you are alone in an airport and the wifi is very slow. But then, I started to think some more... And I started to feel really nihilistic and angry and kind of disgusted by everything.


Like in a century we'll all be dead, including this guy sitting three seats away from me talking on his bluetooth headset about supply chains and I cannot believe how loudly that guy is talking and also just how much stuff everyone has? Phones and luggage and highly stylised clothing.


And then I start thinking about how this is the Hunger Games and how I am a resident of the Capital and how all this stuff we've acquired and cared about will end up in landfills and how our air travel is adding so much carbon to the atmosphere and not for any good reason in the end.


Because we'll all be corpses soon and I've become disgusted by the meaninglessness of it all and how blithely all these people are walking around pretending that human effort matters when our species itself will be gone in a geologic nanosecond. We will be nothing but an odd brief blip on the radar of this planet's story, which itself is an odd brief blip in the larger cosmic story and nothing matters and people who believe otherwise are mindless idiots.


It is astonishing to me how quickly my mind can journey from "I bet people of the future will feel like our clothes looked weird" to "all effort is meaningless because nothing matters." Like, I’m never more than a couple of minutes of thinking away from abject nihilistic despair, but then, when I go to the airport with a friend or something, I'll eat a soft pretzel and chat amiably about the travails of AFC Wimbledon and feel like the human enterprise is good and noble and beautiful. Brains are so weird!


The thing is, I think both these world-views are correct. Like, human life is beautiful and also we are all going to die and much of what we care about will be rendered irrelevant by the in-rushing tide of time. The question for me is not so much "which of these ways of looking at the world is true" its "which of these ways of looking at the world is productive"?


And if despair actually decreased my carbon emissions I'd be all for it, but mostly it just kind of renders me empty and inert. I work when I feel hope, when I am able, as F Scott Fitzgerald once put it "to hold in balance the sense of the futility of effort and the sense of the necessity to struggle".


Ultimately I believe that effort is never futile so long as there are people to share in that effort and people who might benefit from it. In the grand scheme of things, maybe nothing will matter but we don't live in the grand scheme of things- we live here in the day-to-day, at gate A7 on an early Wednesday afternoon, and we struggle on together not because humans are great and eternal but because we are vulnerable and weak. We need each other.


We struggle on in the hopes that the lives to come and of the worlds to come, but also in the hope of the lives we are sharing now.


Hank, I'll see you on Friday.