2017 Summer Alex Ennes External Programs IES Abroad Morocco

Saharan Existentialism

This past weekend, some of the students in my program took a trip out to the Sahara Desert. This trip was the singular thing I was most looking forward to during my time in Morocco, and it completely surpassed my expectations. I have never seen anything so strange and so beautiful.

I could write for hours about the beauty of the Sahara, but I’m more interested in the impressions it gave me about my role (and the human race’s role) in this world. I know I’m getting into some lofty philosophy, but spending time in the desert really caused me to reflect.

After we had dismounted our camels, our guides led us up one of the taller dunes so that we had a nice view for the oncoming sunset. As we were walking up, one guide suggested that we write our names in the sand and take a picture. We did, then continued walking and sat down at the peak, settling in for the sunset.

As we sat on the peak, we took pictures and enjoyed the gorgeous landscape around us, but I constantly found myself returning to look for my name in the distance – was it still there? Once it had completely disappeared, I started monitoring our footprints up the dune. How long would it take the wind to wipe them away?

Most people know this, but the desert is vast. From our little dune, we could see hundreds more, and hundreds exist beyond the ones that we could see. I felt so small on that peak, and I felt so frustrated that I couldn’t view the desert from every other dune I saw – there’s not enough time to climb them all. And the Sahara isn’t even the only desert. There’s hundreds more like the Gobi, Namib, and Mojave. There’s even deserts on Mars. No singular person could ever explore every desert so thoroughly.

And this brings me to the existentialism I encountered during my time in the desert. I have always been someone who wants to do big things, see all there is to see, and go down in the history books. Although I still retain these desires, I realized their futility in the grand scheme of things while sitting on that peak. Chasing my goals is something I love, but the usual crushing pressure of achieving success slipped away.

I want to do what I can do and see what I can see while I’m here, but I think it’s healthy to remember that success is not the end-all-be-all. Ultimately, whatever we do on this planet will gradually wear away, just like my name in the sand and our footsteps up the dune. In the scheme of the universe, the human race will likely do very little to affect change on a scale past ourselves. We are all sitting together on one tiny dune in a vast desert.

Sometimes, this kind of meaninglessness can be crushing, but I see it as freeing. Some people live their whole lives trying to make a mark that the winds will blow away not long after it’s made. So forget the mark. Forget your legacy. Instead, spend your time doing things that you love. Help others. Explore what interests you. Don’t spend your time trying to carve your name so deeply into the sand that it won’t disappear – spend your time enjoying the view, laughing with friends, and exploring your world.

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