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Oblivion and other joys of life to celebrate on your 21st birthday

How I’ve made peace with the reality of oblivion

Cecy Juárez is a Life columnist for The Cavalier Daily.
Cecy Juárez is a Life columnist for The Cavalier Daily.

I recently turned 21, so you know what that means — it’s time to meditate on my impending doom and come to terms with my own mortality. Now, don’t get me wrong, I'm not running around in circles in a frenzied panic, cringing at the idea of aging. I understand the concept of death perfectly well. Mortality, I can deal with. Oblivion, however, is something that's been festering in my mind.

The notion came up recently during a sunrise hike at Humpback Rock. While my friends and I were stumbling our way down the mountain, the topic came up of how even though we feel young and strong enough to march to the top in less than an hour, one day we’ll be too old to embark on such a strenuous endeavor. And, one day, we will pass away.

It was a sobering thought — but acknowledging my mortality wasn’t what made me upset. It was realizing that one day after I’m no longer alive, I won’t be remembered either. People who know me personally won’t be around and there will come a time when even my descendants will forget my stories and no longer pass my memory on. Someday, my identity will fade into oblivion — my identity will evaporate from this reality.

I had a hard time grappling with this. How could it be that even though I feel and do so much, it amounts to a miniscule sum in the grand scheme of things? I’m doomed to endure an entire life even though one day there won’t be anyone who remembers knowing me at all.

I expressed these concerns to my friends as we maneuvered through the rocks and mud. I felt despair and hopelessness that this would be my reality. That is, until my friend countered my perspective with an idea that had never occurred to me. He contended that we could be remembered through our DNA that gets passed on through our genes and generations.  

My DNA? At first I thought it was absurd to think about it that way. But then I began to realize the larger implications of what this really meant. Memories aren’t just limited to personal experiences and stories. Memories are so much more than that. Passing down the memories of our identity — both physical and personality traits — through DNA is one way to forge the memory of ourselves, but that’s just one of many.

Recollections of ourselves reside in everything we leave behind. From the colorful mural adorning the railroad underpass to names etched on stones on mountain peaks. We leave behind pieces of ourselves on eroded dirt paths and gaudy stickers plastered on telephone poles. Even our distant ancestors were compelled to leave a trace of themselves — maroon handprints embedded on cave walls. Today, we scribble little annotations and notes on used books in school for future students. 

We’ve left behind simple messages that mean so much. Throughout our lives, whether implicitly or explicitly, we’ve said “I was here” through simply living our lives and expressing ourselves. We’re constantly saying through our actions, “I was here — I lived as a human and I’m leaving my mark on this world. You will know me.” 

So really, no one ever fades into oblivion. I think we are too human for our legacies to become extinct. Humans are social creatures — we crave to be known and understood by others. My ancestors have passed down their memories to me through my curly hair and love of sweet pastries and I hope to do the same in my future. I plan to leave my mark wherever I can right now such as writing and publishing these columns. I’ll go about my day-to-day life leaving my footprints — metaphorically and physically. 

I understand now how memories mean so much more than we think. Memories of others are irreversibly entwined in our everyday lives, whether we know it or not. As I begin tackling life as a 21 year-old University student, I hope to make the most out of my time here. I hope that I will continue to age, to grow old and to escape oblivion.

Cecy Juárez is a Life Editor for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at life@cavalierdaily.com. 

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