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June 29, 2017

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Mortality, choices and the search for what matters

One of the few certainties in life is that it ends. We live until the day we don't.

But in order to function, humans generally live under the assumption of their continual existence for the foreseeable future.

It is mysterious and tragic events such as the disappearance of Malaysia Airlines Flight 370 that jolt us back to the reality of our mortality and our inability to know — much less to control — our fate.

The mystery of Flight 370 reminds us that there is no authoritative source of guidance in life. The flight was still missing as of press time and the 11 nations that cooperated in one of the largest searches in history have not even come close to determining the fate of the plane and the people onboard. If the authorities cannot even find a plane in the busy waters of the South China Sea, how can we expect there to be an authority in the way we live our lives?

These events remind us that we might be suffering the slings and arrows of our fortune, but we suffer them for a reason, that life is about doing what is important, not what "should be" important.

In different stages of our lives, we can often be distracted and flustered by what is expected from us by society, such as intense pressure for school exams and pressure to get a job and keep it. While education and financial security are essential to sustain our lives, they are but means to an end. It is, however, easy to mistake them as the goals of our lives when we lose track of things.

Not getting bogged down by daily turmoil and keeping stress to a manageable level is the best way to reserve enough space in our lives for reflection on the things that truly matter to us.

But what are the things that truly matter to you? No one can answer that for sure.

No one can tell you what is important in your life. But that does not mean you should not seek advice in the search for your life's goals. One good place to start is to find the ideals we want to pursue. Leaving room for mental fortitude most importantly leaves room for better usage of our time, which in our finite lifetimes should not be spent wallowing in irrelevant worries that society places on us, including the obsession of prestige and wealth. The things that society normally envies are good things, but they should come naturally during the pursuit of the projects that we dedicate our passion to. Turning things the other way around invites envy and decreases our happiness.

Finding the things that evoke our passion will allow us to transcend worldly obsessions. It could be a calling from nature. It could be a calling from art. Or science. Once that thing is found, it should be where we dedicate the best parts of our lives, our energy.

Finding one's passion is not entirely an inward-looking process, either. A central part of facing the uncertainties of life is to remember one's place in the greater scale of things and to remember people we share our lives with. Life insurance and leaving a will can benefit one's life, even though the true value of our lives can never be counted by money. Quantitative values set by society are done more for the lack of a better alternative than really assigning a fixed number to our being, as is the case of wealth distribution that ends up assigning humans into egregiously different classes. Donating organs can be another possibility, as our dead body can yet be of use in benefiting medical research or extending the life of others.

The fate of the 239 passengers and crew members on Flight 370 is still uncertain. We hope for the best for these people and for their loved ones. We can feel feeble in the face of great mysteries but such feebleness can be the beginning of a search for our answers to the question of all time: why are we here.

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