A neon installation by the artist Jeppe Hein in UChicago’s Charles M. Harper Center asks this question for us: “Why are you here and not somewhere else?”
I am seated here, in our farm at Sergoit Road in Uasin Gishu County, soaking in the sun, in silence, because though I denied it vehemently at first, I do need a break from the crazy bustle of Nairobi City and to slide into the tranquility of the countryside. I spent Christmas isolated from the buzz of holiday cheer, movies and indulgent family lunches, herding our cows and going on long treks to our neighbors’ far-stretched homes in the rolling hills on this plain, because I needed to appreciate the beauty of simplicity. In an alternative universe, I would have been lazing around in Nairobi, meeting up with friends, and attending Christmas carol concerts-all of which are not inherently bad tasks. But if I did, I’d have never known that catching sheep is harder than it seems, that effort is required to keep a hearty conversation with no distraction from devices, that Suzza, our highest-yielding cow, is a fierce kicker when provoked, and that the sunrise is so beautiful over the farm’s horizon.
The age old question of fate kicks in; are our lives predetermined by some golden thread, whose tension depends on factors past our control? Some people work hard, and never see the reward of it-some work minimally, and are continually benefited. Working at the bank, it became obvious that life is grey- the nicest people are not always the most financially successful, nor are the rudest ones the poorest. If it’s possible that one may have their dreams painted out, and strive incessantly to achieve them, then fail at the last minute or succumb to a stroke of bad luck. And if comfort cannot be found in religion, in the belief of a supernatural, eternal relief, then we begin to question the needfulness of life. Why are we here, and not in the grave, if regardless of our effort, we are destined to fail? The answer is simple- because we are not only a product of our needs.
We are here because we have a responsibility to ensure that neither us, nor those surrounding us, regret being here. We are here because sometimes our minds play tricks on us by convincing us that we are not worthy of true consideration; and that the key to living life is to be able to overcome those thoughts.
As Katie Perry once asked, do you ever feel like you’re a waste of space? I know I do. I have grappled with extremem feelings of worthlessness more than I care to admit.And once that one brooding thought enters your mind, and you allow it to take center-stage, you subconsciously let the rest in. I ceased to see the beauty of life, and pessimism pervaded my everyday activities. Seeing a beggar on the street, instead of wondering how I should help him, I was scared that I might one day end up in the same position. I became insanely envious of my successful friends, instead of being happy for their achievements. When I looked to my future, all I could see was disappointment and failure-and at one point I did not see life as worth living anymore. And that was when I hit my rock-bottom.
Looking back now, I am ashamed and disgusted by that behavior. But that’s the thing with life-it’s so much easier to be negative than to be positive. It actually takes effort to wake up each morning and be excited for what is to come. I used to believe that happy people were simply that way, that it was a character trait and I could only blissfully long for the day when I would also wake up with a light heart. But then I realized that life doesn’t quite work that way-I had to will myself into living my life the way it should be lived. I realized that there is much more joy in giving back to the community than spending money on myself trying to feel better. I realized that in life there will always be someone better than me, so I should suck up my pride and understand that even if I’m not the best, what matters is that I’ve done my level best. I realized that I have no right to a sure, prosperous future, because I am subject to the rules of time, just like everyone else, so I should stop worrying about it so much. I realized that the difference between what you think and feel you need (my Christmas experience) and what you actually do need can be very stark.
So why are we here? There are 2 primary answers to the question: in religion, it is so that we secure a better after-life, in purely scientific terms, it is so that we reproduce, thus perpetuating the human race. Regardless of where your beliefs lie in the theism-atheism spectrum, please always remember, no matter how horrible you feel, that you are here to live your life, and to live it well; and to make sure that on your deathbed, your regrets are manageable. So if you haven’t started living your life, I urge you to begin as soon as possible. I began it only a few months ago. And I don’t plan on stopping for the next 51 years or so.
That’s why I’m here. Why are you here?