Earlier this morning I finished Good Morning, Midnight, a novel by Lily Brooks-Dalton. To quickly summarize the book, it's a post-apocalyptic tale that has nearly nothing to do with the apocalypse itself. It isn't a classical survival tale. It specifically details life after the apocalypse for astronomer Augustine – stranded at a research base in the Arctic – and astronaut Sullivan – on a return flight from Jupiter.
The novel is a meditation on what is a life well lived and what really matters in our final days. For these two, they were decorated and accomplished scientists, but when life seems so imminent, what defines our lives as well-lived? (Note: I don't believe anything I write will spoil anything necessarily, but I suppose it could reduce what exactly you get out of the book if you choose to read it.)
As a scientist, writer, and obsessive human who tries to ascribe meaning to everything, this book resonated deeply with me. It made me think, think a little more, and then finally, think some more. I've already spent a lot of time thinking about what it means to me to live a "good" life, but this book took a lot of what I believed to be important and turned it on its head.
I believe in a life of compassion. I believe utilitarianism is a generally decent philosophy (utilitarianism is basically the idea that the best decision is the one that benefits the most people; because I'm a literal person, this isn't exactly what it is, but it's basically it). I'd like to believe that making the "right" – a subjective term, sure, but in the context of not being deceitful or intentionally undermining others sees to be "right" – decision will lend itself to a good life.
But in the face of the end of the world, what will preoccupy our minds?
I pride myself on being able to remember when small, menial parts of my life occurred by associating them with the larger, more memorable parts of my life. In that way, most of my memories are punctuated by the events that registered strongly, whether those events were positive or negative.
When moments are happening, it probably isn't immediately obvious that these moments will anchor together the memories that will stay with me forever. It also isn't necessarily obvious that these moments will be of something of note and they may not become vivid points of memory until the future.
On that note, I saw a quote that flooded my brain with emotion.
This quote perfectly sums up the menial, common moments that will probably not be menial and common forever. That casual cup of coffee with family on a Saturday morning, that hungover Waffle House on a Sunday morning in college, or whatever else it may be. We don't romanticize these moments until they need to be romanticized and truly appreciated. Whether we realize it when they are happening or not, these are probably what we will cherish more when the end is in sight.
So, really, what is a life well lived?
I'd imagine that everybody's personal well-lived life is different from the next. But to me, a life well lived is the one where I take a step back and recognize that maybe the menial moments aren't so menial after all. Maybe my greatest joys won't be ski trips, lake trips, or jumping out of an airplane. Maybe the greatest memories will be the ones formed on the way to or from the destination, instead of the destination itself.