There is a saying among existentialists that goes, “There are no adventures,” which attempts to argue that, despite the human tendency to dissect their lives into chapters, life is actually a single story that is constantly building off of itself. No single event can properly be explained without the context of all that came before, and every event will forever be a part of all that comes after.
It’s a morbid thought, but I cannot pretend it didn’t cross my mind. I’m looking at the largest remaining neighbor of Old Rotterdam and realizing how little stood after the bombings. I try to shut it out but a small voice says, “What happened to the city is sadder than all the people that died.” What am I, a serial killer? And yet, I can’t help but think about how much more eternal a city can be when compared to the brief lives of people. Though most who died in the war would probably be dead today anyway, the city may have still stood. Despite all my travels to old towns, beautiful scenes, and places of great history, I feel humbled in a way I never have before. Perhaps one cannot fully be humbled by the eternity of time until he sees something that so distinctly exists in two times.
The relativity of time is something most commonly discussed in physics classes, but is better understood when in company that exists in time relatively. Despite the day and year being the same for every member of the trip, I was among 27 people at different times in their life. As I look to the last year of my undergraduate college experience, I think of all that came before, and what lies ahead, and seeing the many different paths my company has chosen for themselves only makes the questions harder to answer. As I see the contentedness each has with his or her own life, I consider that there is no right answer.
Nostalgia is inevitable when faced with uncertainty of the future. As time goes on, the entropy of life only increases and there is a great temptation to cling to what came before. But like a city flattened by war, some things cannot be rebuilt and regained. Even that which is not violently destroyed slowly becomes dust. It would be enough to make one despair, but Rotterdam stands today tall, beautiful, and full of people thrilled to be alive. And so we learn not to forget the past, but to acknowledge it as a part of what we are as we forge ahead. We preserve what we can, construct new buildings that look like the old ones right next to towers like the world has never seen before, and try not to worry that people will look at the skyline and decide it looks weird.