Turning Over New Leaf

Friday, December 24, 2010

A Season of Life

Aesop's ants: picture by Milo Winter, 1888-1956.

A Season of Life

Many people believe that nothing really matters, because after all, in a few hundred years we will all be gone anyway. Yet, they struggle, they stress, and they attempt to accomplish goals as though whatever they achieve will be permanent. Why?

Once the Earth disappears, which is the eventual fate of all planets, even Shakespeare's works will be gone forever, so what's the point of writing them in the first place? We know things don't last forever, but we attempt to achieve them anyway. We make excuses for living. We help friends. We care for our loved ones. We even do some things for ourselves so we will be better prepared to help others in their meaningless journey through life. Why?

In the large scheme of things, our individual lives do not seem to matter at all. Of course, many of us believe that on a small scale we do matter, because we are important to the people close to us. We feel as though our lives are significant, because our children, parents, and friends think we are important to them. Of course, if their lives are also insignificant, does it really matter what we do for them?

Philosophers will tell us that just living is enough. If we simply enjoy whatever time we have, that should be sufficient. Just live, they say. However, for me, that philosophy only works if I resign myself to the idea that my individual life is meaningless. I have some trouble with that concept. I would like to be part of something much larger. Can I make a difference to the world? Can I change the course of history? Can I improve life for future generations? Probably not, but what does it matter anyway, because even on a larger scale, my accomplishments will come to an end – and become meaningless.

How about a religious approach? Our lives on Earth are spent in preparation for a personal relationship with God, so it doesn't matter if they are meaningless. The whole point of life would be to do God's will. The problem with this solution for many people lies in the fact that too many questions remain unanswered. Faith gives us the connection we need to something larger, which, in turn, gives our lives meaning. Still, too much remains unanswered. The concept of God is not explainable by man. For many, there lies the answer! God is the term used to explain away everything not explainable. That's faith, and it works for some, but not for others. Looking from the outside in at our lives, they seem meaningless, unless we simply conclude that we cannot understand it anyway, so we rely on the unexplainable to explain it.

I remember sitting alone in my backyard years ago. I began to watch an ant colony at work. The ants were quite organized. They each had their roles. They worked hard on behalf of the whole colony. They systematically built a mound of sand, and carried food to the occupants inside. I started thinking about the fact that these organized, fascinating creatures could not possibly understand Einstein's Theory of Relativity. Their lack of intellectual capability did not render Einstein's Theory incorrect. It simply meant that the truth was beyond their capacity to understand. Could it be that the concept of God is reality, and we just can't understand it? Sure. That's faith.

But that is looking at life from the outside in, and as we face the struggles of life, some of us crave more. We recognize that we can't understand what we can't understand, just like ants. Nevertheless, it would be nice to take some comfort while we are alive in the fact that there is individual meaning for our existence. So here is the bottom line. It is possible to view life from the inside out. We can understand that. Our lives are connected to other lives, and we are meaningful to them, and they to us. Although we would prefer to view ourselves from the outside in as being permanently meaningful to something larger, we can't prove it. However, it makes no sense at all to tell ourselves it really does not matter if we exist, BECAUSE WE DO EXIST! My life is important to my family, because it is.

While many people insist on remaining depressed over what they cannot understand, I prefer to enjoy my life, simply because I have one. I prefer to remain happy every day of my life, simply because it is important to those around me. I refuse to spend my existence assuring myself that the outside world recognizes the meaning of my life. I prefer to take daily comfort in the fact that what is inside of me can be shared with those I love and admire, which gives me purpose. Especially during this Holiday season, I find it absurd to believe that living the Golden Rule violates the will of any higher Being that exists. To me, that is meaningful.

 When you were born, you cried and the world rejoiced. Live your life so that when you die, the world cries and you rejoice.
                                                                 Cherokee Adage


  1. Another generous post on the heels of yesterday's video.

    WOW.... the last sentence sums it all up.

    Now let's all go out and cultivate our gardens.


  2. Manzi: A student of Voltaire! You are a very interesting lady!

  3. You have found your purpose, JJ, and your readers know it! Thank you.

  4. I think these kinds of ideas really plague people. What does their life mean? What are they supposed to do? Can they really change anything?

    My philosophy when this subject comes up is that small acts make a big impact.

    All of our lives are connected. If you are walking down the street and a person bumps into you, how do you reply? If you turn and smile, and say excuse me, it's okay, no one was hurt, then the other person smiles as well and continues on their day. If you turn and scowl, and say back off, get out of the way, watch where you are going, that persons day has just gotten worse.

    Sometimes the smallest thing can make me smile, improving my whole day, or it could ruin it. Much of the time, these small things depend on other people.

    A small thing is enough.

  5. I swore I was not going to spend time at the computer today, but your post is too good to pass up! Three things came to mind.

    First, I was reminded of an interview with Ken Kesey, perhaps just as famous for being the leader of the Merry Pranksters as he was for being an author. The interview took place at Kesey's rural Oregon home, with the faded DayGlo Merry Prankster bus rusting in a nearby field. The interviewer (apparently frustrated by Kesey's retirement from the limelight) asked Kesey what he was doing to contribute to the world. Kesey looked out over his garden and replied, "Well, this year I'm growing asparagus."

    Second, I was reminded of various passages in Ecclesiastes regarding the vanity of all striving, none of which will be remembered. "There is no remembrance of former things, nor will there be any remembrance of later things yet to be. ...I have seen everything that is done under the sun, and behold, all is vanity and a stiving after wind." So what are we to do? Seems like you are on the right track. "And I commend joy, for man has no good thing under the sun but to eat and drink and be joyful, for this will go with him in his toil through the days of his life that God has given him under the sun."

    And finally, I was reminded of the Dalai Lama, a model of joyful living for all of us. In The Art of Happiness, he says, "I believe that the very purpose of our life is to seek happiness."

    At first blush it might sound selfish to seek happiness, but when we understand where true happiness comes from, we see that it is the most selfless path. Shantideva said, "All the joy the world contains has come through wishing happiness for others. All the misery the world contains has come through wanting pleasure for oneself."

    Thank you for a thoughtful, inspiring Christmas Eve post! And for your comment on my blog. I, too, am finding great delight in dancing down the blogging trail with you.

    Merry Christmas.

  6. Merry Christmas to all of you!

    Judie: Thank you. It means a great deal to me.

    AubrieAnne: I think you are on the right track. If I walk down the street and accidentally bump into someone who scowls, I smile anyway and tell him or her I am sorry, even if it is their fault.

    Galen Pearl: Aside from its obvious religious connections, the Bible is quite a philosophical book. Buddhist philosophy is not inconsistent with it. I cannot imagine a more peaceful world than one where everyone practiced the Golden Rule, and also turned the other cheek when someone was weak.

    May you all find peace in the New Year!

  7. Thank you for another wonderful post JJ - I concur! My best wishes to you and your family as well!

  8. emilene: Sorry for the typo. Ditto!

    Merry Christmas!

  9. Wow, that's an awesome post! Makes me think, I like that :) Sometimes I spend too much time thinking about what the purpose of life is for me.

    Merry Christmas!

  10. christina: Merry Christmas to you and yours!

  11. Sometimes, I care too much what will happen after I am gone.

    You remind to so-what-who-cares and LIVE WELL.


  12. A-M: I care, but yes, LIVE WELL!


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