The Lukewarm Wind: Coping With Existential Emptiness

My niece and I looking out a window at their new house taken on self-timer (May 1, 2020). *All photos by A.C. Brooke.
“Shadows” (May 1, 2020).

The Lukewarm Wind

I stood in the shower the other day and just watched the water run down my arm. Something about the way the thin clear stream traveled over my pale skin was strangely captivating. I think it was one of those moments where you just kind of stop and hold your body still so that your mind can roam free, you know? Just for a little while. And I thought of things as I often do, many complex and annoyingly ambiguous in nature. The kind of things that bring about sudden confusion, and make you ponder, “what’s the point of all of this, anyway?”

I’ve dealt with feelings of emptiness since I was around 14 years old. I don’t think I really knew what it was at first—that restless ache. Even now I suppose it’s hard to identify. It seems words often lack the flaccidity to truly animate any given thing of that genre. It’d be a much easier endeavor, I’d argue, to describe something like that using colors, or metaphors, maybe. It’s different from depression in my eyes: when I was depressed, I definitely felt empty, but in instances I feel empty, I’m not always depressed. And often I wonder where this emptiness comes from, and—more frustratingly—why. But with the more interactions I’ve had with others, the more I’ve found that this is sort of a universal thing, that I am not alone in the visitation of this brief void. 

From “Moving Day”—a collection of pictures following the move of my sister and her family (April 27, 2020).

I have this theory that there’s this inherent longing in our souls for some unknown “something” sometimes—it’s a part of being human. And the painfully ironic part about being human is that as creatures, we’re intelligent and self-aware enough to formulate all these questions and anxieties in search of the reason for our existence, and yet, we’ll most likely never have enough insight to come up with any concrete answers. Because even as someone who believes in God, I find myself ruminating over the purpose behind His existence, and whether or not there is a point of anything—things even beyond this world—being real in a vast sea of seemingly nothingness that is the universe.

A snapshot of my niece’s room in the days leading up to their move (April 23, 2020).

But I digress. And the reason I digress is that despite all the circles I’ve turned around in endlessly, and inquiries I’ve let myself indulge in, I’ve realized one thing of certainty: we’ll never truly know.

I used to think sentience was a curse. Admittedly, some late nights I still do. But part of the pact for being human is dealing with this sense of emptiness that comes and goes from time to time. The kind of emptiness that sneaks up on you suddenly, that gray rush of lukewarm wind that seems to drown out everything else with silence, and distill the moment you’re in—any moment—down to the very bone. A feeling born out of all these distressing unknowns and uncertainties; and suddenly, everything seems to be a little fragmented, and while you still know what it is you’re doing in this life, it seems you’ve become suddenly aware of the possibility that there may not be a clear cut reason as to why.

My brother-in-law, Matt, removing hooks from their wall (April 27, 2020).

And now and then it still comes upon me too—I think it always will. Even if I’m doing better than I ever have, living passionately as I’ve ever lived. But I try not to take it too personally anymore, because like any wind that has ever blown, it too will come and pass, and the dust will settle and the warmth will return and I’ll find my back to how I was before, going about my life as I long to. Besides, what good has constantly immersing ourselves in such thoughts ever done, anyway?

A portrait of my sister, Kristina, and her 3-month-old daughter, Rose (April 23, 2020).

But like that transient wind, we too are impermanent—a double-sided coin, as it seems. Because what comes after our time here on Earth is still up for debate; and quite frankly, I consistently find myself caught between too scared at the idea of living forever, while simultaneously too afraid at the thought of no longer living at all. But what we do know is that all of us will experience both life and death, and if anything at all matters, it’s what’s in between. 

I think by accepting the unknown, and more specifically, making peace with the notion that emptiness is a part of life (as uncomfortable and depressing as it may feel), there’s a certain liberty granted to take whatever way you please, and to really pick out the things you find beautiful. When I was standing there in the shower that day, watching the water run down my arm (yes, it was a very long shower), I also realized something else: I really like being alive. I like that I can think and ponder and create and love and feel things. I like listening to the birds sing outside through my bedroom window, or telling nonsensical stories to little kids that go nowhere. I like being here most days, and maybe that’s enough.

My niece showcasing her tendency to steal my shoes, though there’s something about this image that’s deeply relatable when it comes to how I feel facing adulthood (April 23, 2020).
Empty Rooms (April 23, 2020).

I try to gravitate more and more towards this belief that many things in life are up to us to decide—perspective really does dictate reality, as they say. And as I’ve gotten older (and after a quick glance at Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs), I’ve started to learn to look at this “problem” as a gift, or perhaps phrased more appropriately, an opportunity to make the most of my time here, to give back to this world what I can. I choose to meditate on things that bring me joy, making a big deal of seemingly insignificant occurrences. All the while, still acknowledging the things I don’t want or choose to feel, but choose to cope or, better yet, do something meaningful with them anyways. 

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and I think that serves as a reminder that being open with and connecting through our humanity is a very powerful tool in a world where it feels like we’re constantly growing more disconnected. Too long we’ve refrained from talking about things like this—things that are confusing and complicated and uncomfortable to talk about. Because while knowing someone else is going through the same thing as you are won’t solve your problems, it will help alleviate the loneliness caused by them. After all, whatever thing this is that we’re in, at the very least we’re in it together, right? 

My niece and brother goofing around in a now-empty living room (April 27 2020).

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