by Samanwita Sen

In the grand scheme of the universe, all we will ever amount to is just that. Stardust.

You could have the highest statute of honour attached to your name, or you could be the stranger that meticulously walks down the same alleyway at the same time every morning – regardless, our existences, our identities, our states of being, will one day irrevocably fade and fragment into mere, insignificant specks of dust, to be lost among the incomprehensible scale of the universe, specks of dust that no longer converge to form an entity that defines you.

Whatever truly happens to us after we cease to be has always remained ambiguous. From the purely objective perspective of science, every single individual is comprised of atoms, which, at this point of time, just so happen to come together to make the fully functional human being that is you. However, as your existence gradually fades into the continuum of history, the bundle of atoms which once comprised you dispatch and float off into the void – perhaps this time it’ll be the milky away, or perhaps another planet, or maybe even another galaxy.

Who knows; maybe in the distant future, these atoms will once again, by chance, come together, bringing a new bundle along with them to form another being – to be once again. One thing, however, is certain. In the grand scheme of things, we are utterly and undeniably insignificant. 

One may perceive this truth as nihilistic and blatantly bleak, but a shift in perspective begs to differ. If your existence in the grand scheme is doomed to become inconsequential, then you have the complete liberty to do as you wish with your bundle of atoms and lead your life the way you want to with no regard for judgement and scrutiny – because that too, is insignificant. It is therefore what you want out of your life that truly matters. 

In the brief duration that your atoms come together to form you, you have complete control. And when they disintegrate and return to the universe, you will become stardust. Until, of course, the atoms reunite and what was once you carries on existing in a different form, and you live to the fullest in that form as well. It is magical.

This was what my English teacher once explained in one of his innumerable tangents on the essence of being. His words have never failed to inspire me, and have always prompted and stirred me to re-evaluate my own perceptions on life. In a world driven by a ludicrous race to be at the top, where every individual is made to succumb and conform to the caricature of success at the expense of their identity, it is so easy to be blinded by popular markers of what it means to ‘triumph’. As you drift away, lost in the swarm of expectations imposed upon you, you lose sight of your goals and who you truly are, only to become the ghost of what you might have been.

Amidst this race which I often find myself caught up in, it is always in my English teacher’s words that I remain grounded and find myself once again. What has always struck me about him is how deeply he cares for his students, wholeheartedly believing that every individual has within them the capacity to be wonderful individuals. To him, every student has always had something special to offer. He always believed that the mask of authority one may wear as a teacher was less impactful – when there is openness and trust in place, the conduit to growth is possible, and experiencing that is humbling. 

One of the most insightful conversations we’ve had, early one morning after I had approached him for advice on dealing with potential university rejections, was one on how you choose to define yourself and subsequently the meaning with which you lead your life. He told me how people too easily focus on the ‘what’ instead of the ‘who’ – what individuals want to achieve scholastically as opposed to who they want to become, what they want to make out of their identities and existences, and who they truly are. Life is all about trial and tribulation, and while you can attempt to meticulously lead your life within the boundaries of safety, ticking off check-boxes of achievements, doing so will mean that you would have led a life never having truly experienced risk and what it means to live. You can choose to lose yourself in the stream, or you can determine your own path and who you want to be. What once was utterly incomprehensible soon dawned upon me – I wanted more than anything to not experience a constant stream of successes, but to be aware of my limitations as an individual and learn from them, accept my imperfections, and surpass them. I wanted my life to mean more than a list of accolades. I wanted to not be afraid to take risks with my emotions and experience life in both its full-fledged glory and abject despair. I wanted to live. 

Life is all about letting go, whether it be your possessions, your youth, or life itself. However, if there is no way to change your fate, then it is up to you to imbue your own existence with meaning. My English teacher taught me that I could lead my life believing that reputation equated to quality, or I could truly seek out meaning through connection with others on a profound, empathetic level. We have no control over our insignificance, but our existences are truly meaningful when we have successfully connected with others, accepting our vulnerabilities, and learning from one another, imparting some of the wisdom we learn along the way. Making even the slightest difference to another being’s life is what truly matters – not your reputation, your status, or your wealth.

 I decided to break free of the paradigm, and have applied this philosophy to my life. To this day, I take great pride in my friends, appreciating them for their unique perspectives on life and taking the risk of connecting with them on a personal level. Whether it be with a new friend in class, a refugee I volunteered with during my weekly art classes at school, or even joining societies I never thought I would at university to finally pick up on that skill I always wished I could foster – what matters to me now is filling my life with things I love and enjoy as opposed to pursuing what may look more impressive on a CV. This, to me, is true triumph. I have learned that it is what I choose to do with my life that determines its quality. The quality of my existence will not be defined by what others viewed it as or how many accolades I had, but by the character I am building and slowly moulding out of stardust. I can determine for myself what I want to be.

After all, I’ll be stardust in the end.

The Poor Print

Established in 2013, The Poor Print is the student-run newspaper of Oriel College, Oxford. Written by members of the JCR, MCR, SCR and staff, new issues are published fortnightly during term. Our current Executive Editors are Siddiq Islam and Jerric Chong.

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