I’ve just seen “March of the Penguins.” It’s about emperor penguins in Antarctica. They endure incredible adversity each year in one of the harshest climates on Earth to survive and continue their genes and species through their offspring. In watching the starving males huddle against 100 MPH winds in –80 degree temperatures to keep themselves and the eggs they incubate alive while their starving female mates trek scores of miles across the ice to replenish themselves with food, I couldn’t help but wonder, “Why bother?” What is the point in struggling year after year just to suffer such terrible hardship and to procreate other penguins to suffer just as pointlessly as they do?
And how are we human beings so markedly different from the penguins? Even if a small percentage of us are fortunate enough to reside in places and circumstances where we can enjoy a modicum of happiness and help others to do the same, what does it all ultimately amount to, and why bother?
I do it because I’m too much of a coward to kill myself directly and because I don’t want to leave my wife and cat without the husband and caretaker they love and depend on. But here on the eve of a new year, I confess that I often believe that my wife, my cat, and the whole world would ultimately be better off without me. I look back on my life and think that it’s been a terrible waste of space and resources at best, and I honestly don’t believe that I have anything of real value to offer anyone or anything. I am too defective to the core of my being to be better than a burden.
Some might read this and think that I’m suffering some kind of holiday depression that many people go through this time of year. But I know depression intimately from past experience, and I’m not depressed. I’m just seeing myself and my life as they are without the usual adornments of platitudinous false optimism.
And yet, I will keep on keeping on and trying to be a better husband, caretaker, son, nephew, cousin, brother-in-law, friend, writer, student, and person regardless of how much or how little difference it makes in the overall scheme of things. Why bother? Why not?