when you’re measuring existential dread

We’re constantly reminded of our distance of, to and from things. The GPS on our phone ticks away the mileage to our destination while our Google calendar pings reminders of impending birthdays and anniversaries, alerting us of the time since that Last Thing on the way to the next.

These are never arbitrary starting and ending points, for the most part, I think. The two miles to that exit presents the next step in our journey. The notification on our iPhone about a friend’s party takes on a celebratory tone over a plain fact that gets added to a day’s to-do list. But still.

Anniversaries are particularly difficult. For any event, I suppose. We’ve picked what is essentially a date of chance, marked it as a pivotal moment in our lives, and assigned it supervision over some 24-hour period set to repeat every year until the day we die. Deviation from that process isn’t frowned upon, but maybe kinda is looked at with a side-eye. Why do That Thing before That Date?

The world is ending, society is crumbling, people hate each other and making measurements of moments in time is still impossible to ignore because maybe they also act as prompts of what’s good. Or maybe was good. You get to be the judge of joy (or pain).

Memories are powerful things, and in the giant Venn diagram of your daily life, the overlap with your personal calendar is large. Days get 24 hours, months get 30ish days, but how you remember and reminisce flows throughout it all. And those distances of and to and from things are the mile markers we mentally tick by, aided by the benefit or problem of technology always giving us more. Facebook or Timehop or whatever photo cloud are push messaging our past into our present and that makes the future more or less bright in that moment, depending on the decisiveness in the jury of your mind.

It’s about the journey, they say, and you’re on it, right now, filling up the tank with what’s happening in this moment so you can celebrate it at a suddenly predetermined time later on.

But the threat of not wanting any of that, of casting aside those reminders, creates just as much angst. If you promise yourself the value of what this is today as something to hold onto for later, what’s it going to cost you if and when it’s not there? Everything changes. Our directions get rerouted. Our calendar updates.

The ways we change aren’t always quantitative. Life’s moments move in a linear timeline, but the forward motion causes our own internal starts and stops to take on greater meaning while the external world moves along. There’s always a next, and the toll of playing catchup can’t be definitively known until we’re there.

And how do we measure that?

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