I was out walking in the Stockholm forest cemetery a few days ago. I often take an hourlong walk in the middle of the day to clear my head a bit. The forest cemetery is large and beautiful, and I often go here to enjoy its tranquility. As I was walking along one of the outer edges of one of the outer graveyeards, I saw a small path leading into the forest. I had never noticed this path before, and I was a bit intrigued, so I followed it.
After a short walk I came into a clearing. Groups of old, uprooted, gravestones were all around me. Gravestones taken away from the cemetery. As I examined them closer, I noticed that most of them were from 1961 or so – around 60 years old.
It then dawned on me that your grave is relevant only as long as your children, and possibly grandchildren, are alive. Your children will likely die around 30 years after you, and your grandchildren another 30 years after that. 60 years. After that you will be forgotten. Nobody will be around to visit your grave nor pay the grave maintenance fee. All the things you did in your life – all your struggles, ambitions, failures, successes, sorrows and joys – gone and forgotten. If you would have won a Nobel prize, or if you were known for some famous invention or idea, there would be some traces left of you in some book. But most of us don't reach that kind of fame. Do you know who your great grandfather was? How many people know about him? A hundred years from now, you could just as well never have existed.
Just 60 years after you die, your gravestone will be dug up to make place for a newer one. Your stone will be towed away to that forest clearing on the other side of the cemetery. From there I guess it will be recycled with someone elses name on it, or simply destroyed. This can be a depressing thought. But it can also be liberating and uplifting.
Our utter insignificance in the grander scheme of things is liberating, as it highlights and acknowledges how little risk there is to doing things. Because no matter the outcome, it will mean absolutely nothing a hundred years from now. Your most ambitious and daring dreams, no matter if they succeed or not, will mean absolutely nothing when you are gone. So savor that feeling of lightness, of wanting to try anything that comes to mind. Savor that feeling of wanting to experiment, to do silly things. Even if you manage to make a fool of yourself in the most spectacular way imaginable, nobody will care a hundred years from now. Go out and explore, celebrate life, enjoy freedom, because you are just here on Earth for a brief moment, before waning into the same eternal nonexistence that you came from not long ago.
All that really matters in the end, is that you found a joy of living, in the beautiful but insignificant little episode that was your life.
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