everything matters; nothing matters

bronze worker emerging from manhole

Sometimes the paradoxes that seem most obviously contradictory are the ones that are so deeply true. One of the these significant contradictions is the apparently simultaneous truth that everything matters and nothing matters. At times, it would seem, wisdom leads us to clearly lean toward one or the other. Perhaps we need to pay attention to how life-changing it could be to take notice of the tone in our voice when addressing a loved one. Everything matters. Or perhaps we need to stop calculating all of the risks and simply follow our heart. Nothing matters.

Of course, neither one is true. To say everything matters is to live in a world of impossible weight and pressure. Who can pay attention to every detail, avoid every mistake? We’d be crushed by our regrets and embittered by all of our wounds. To say nothing matters is to court utter meaninglessness. Why bother doing anything? There’s be no point. Our lives would be so empty that even hedonism would bore us. bronze worker emerging from manhole

And yet… somehow don’t we need both to be true rather than some compromise in the middle? If we tried too hard for this compromise, we’d have competing rankings of priorities that would never mesh. And don’t we need the relief of one precisely where the other side burdens us?

One illustration of this paradox is what can happen to the quality of life when we imagine it may be the last week of our life. I think of an old, quirky movie favourite, Joe Vs the Volcano, in which a man needs to accept the pointlessness of life before taking a hold of life’s significance – or perhaps more accurately: he realises that the fears and anxieties of things mattering too much made his old life pointless. When we acknowledge the immanence of death, everything seems to matter more and less at the same time.

More abstractly, a deep sense of trust can bring a mysterious unity to this paradox. When, in the most ultimate way, I trust that God/Reality/The Universe is fundamentally OK (and therefore, I am fundamentally OK), then might it “work” for everything and nothing to matter at the same time?

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