The last word

Well, sort of. It’s not the last word in any kind of Old Testament mass hysteria sense—I’m not trying to suggest it’s the end of the world. What I mean is this is the last signed editorial for the Journal until January, meaning no more Journal until the New Year and so I’m left writing the last word for you.

Beyond the ontological trickery involved in suggesting this supposed last word, I feel this extra sense of pressure to try to say something meaningful. For a last word is like that final essay or exam you’re about to write—despite its pressure, it needs to be done.

I can’t help but sympathize here for obituary writers. Now they must have a stressful job. Each day would be like writing that final essay, only it’s not for your professor, but anyone who cares to read it. Worse still, you have to put yourself in someone else’s skin and try to say something meaningful
about their existence. Every day at work would be like facing a whole new existential crisis. What absurdity!

The last word is in fact very existential, for such words necessarily contain a deep ontological relationship to the self. What you make of last words says a lot about who you are, and you know that despite what you say, you will be judged by others. You will be evaluated, compared and scrutinized. And this continues throughout your life. It’s sort of like that existential angst Martin Heidegger speaks of—that deep feeling of anxiousness when we think about how free we really are to live our lives authentically.

We’re free, and that’s a cause of angst for it means that it’s up to you and only you to live authentically. Not to bend to someone else’s will, not to live the life of a bell curve, but to assert yourself as a free individual and willfully choose your life. This is no easy task, and surely a great cause of anxiety—to face the world, see its utter absurdity, and even, if necessary, turn your back on it. This may not seem like it’s for everyone, but regardless, everyone has to choose the way they live, even when it seems like there’s no choice. This may be the perception a lot of people share, that we
really don’t have that much choice. From biological determinists to the cultural relativists who assert their knowledge to excuse their existence because, from this perspective, existence is really
just pre-determined from an endless series of causes and events.

I would suggest otherwise. In fact these determinists and relativists have indeed made a choice not to choose. It is a forfeiture of one’s existential freedom, and so they go through life wandering, having
convinced themselves they know the answer and yet, can’t quite explain that sense of incompleteness felt deep down, hidden from the gaze and scrutiny of others.

So what’s the last word? There isn’t one. Despite this angst, there will always be choices, and always freedom to exist how you choose. So when you sit down to write that last essay or exam before going home, you can say with confidence “I willed to be here. I’m free. I exist.”

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