I Had a Revelation During the Eclipse

Some existential thoughts, new and old

I was in a stellar mood, even as I texted my friends that I was running a little late to the lawn. More than the eclipse, though, it was the new school year that enthralled me.  

Last year, I was a freshman, overwhelmed by the difficulties of independent living, afraid to loosen my tense grip on everything. Now, well-adjusted to college life, I feel ready to dive back in and prove myself, convinced I’d never come so far before. After all, I rarely feel myself maturing on a day-to-day basis. Rather, it is in the marked transitions (e.g. the end of summer) that I suddenly notice the heights I’ve scaled. If maturation or progress were a curve, the new year felt like a sudden exponential leap.

As I stepped onto the half-lit sidewalk, however, long-held doubts rose within me again. What if I actually hadn’t changed at all? What if progress itself were an illusion? The past certainly seemed to confirm this notion. How many times had I confidently believed I’d matured and learned, only to become disillusioned? Lectures and texts, initially so fascinating, became repetitive as grades faltered. New friendships, initially exciting, reduced to mere habit, and people walked away. The progress curve, then, was not a gradual ascent, but rather a series of highs and lows, tapering off to nowhere. Perhaps our “rational” actions toward self-development were only senseless, crazed circles, ultimately ending where we began. But if there were no progress, no forward movement, what was the point of life at all?

I squinted through the glasses. The eclipse was complete. All of campus was shrouded in darkness, and a white smoke-like corona rimmed the black moon.

In the strange darkness, I had the following thought: perhaps there is no progress, and forward development is an illusion. But does that mean life has no meaning? According to an astronomical concept called the mediocrity principle, the universe’s vastness and infinity necessitate the existence of not just one, but countless life-sustaining planets, all out there, revolving around their solar systems. Probably experiencing their own eclipses in this very moment. Granted, an increase in the number of life-sustaining planets doesn’t signify some kind of intellectual or social progress, but maybe that’s not the point. Maybe the point is to celebrate the existence of life itself, that is, the numerous perfect coincidences arising from the cosmic chaos. After all, despite the potential setbacks to come, we can still seize the opportunities that arise.

By now a sliver of the sun’s orange light had peeked behind the moon. People’s clapping and cheering began to wane. We ascended the steps to Rand, the renewed sunlight warming our skin.

Here’s to the new school year.

Justine Hong is a sophomore in the College of Arts and Sciences. She can be reached at ji.yoon.hong@vanderbilt.edu. 

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