Wednesday, April 05, 2006

The Meaning of Life

At different times in our lives, all of us feel cut loose or adrift, disconnected, when all news seems like bad news and a positive outlook is an artificially induced state of mind intended to keep your spouse from murdering you in your sleep. At least I hope we all do. I'd hate to think I were alone.

Despite Nietschze's proclamation of the death of God, the vast majority of people on the planet believe in some sort of higher power. Their fatih in religion presumably gives them strength and hope and comfort. Even a non-believer can see the power in that.

Which is where I find myself. Going on three years of severe injury/illness without an end in sight and without a dogma to lean on. If I had a faith it might make me feel better about my situation but you can't make yourself believe just because you want to. If God only gives one as much as they can handle explain a suicide to me. And if there were one true God and one true religion, explain the ancient commonality of myth to me, those stories with nearly identical themes across disparate cultures and geographies. Religion answers questions common to us all yet no particular faith unifies the world.

So what's it all mean? Are we just random events floating along a plane of chaos, guessing our way through the years we coax out of our physical forms? Are we beings of energy and, since believers tell us that energy can never be destroyed, we will live forever? Maybe this is comforting. But a light bulb gives off energy until somebody flicks the switch.

When I look back at the traumatic or otherwise "bad" things that have happened in my life, I can see something positive that followed. Were these things fate or simply things that worked out as I lived life the way I thought I should?

I tore up my shoulder, ending whatever tennis career I may have had. My first surgery was only partially successful and the second left me with a frozen shoulder. The first therapy facility wasn't effective and the second was limited by the lovely way insurance companies run themselves. But I met the woman of my dreams there, who eventually became my wife.

I could go on and on with stories like that but they would be at least as painful to read as they would be for me to write. The point is that looking back on them all it's possible to draw a clear and distinct line from the bad event to a good one; it's almost too tempting to not call it an outcome.

So I've come to think that this may be a way to find the Meaning of Life: look backwards at your life, pick an arbitrary point then follow it forward in memory until you reach something good. You always will if you go back far enough. And you can see the connections that were made, the effects you had on people and that they had on you. You can get a sense of how different the lives of people you care about would have been had you not been there. And if you have children, my god, they simply wouldn't be at all.

Looking forward from this point is like looking at an unknown river and wondering where you'll end up if you jump into the whitewater. It's unknowable, chaotic, and you'll almost never end up where you'd think. But looking forward from a point already past tells you just where you landed. You see the effects of your actions and that's what gives them meaning, what shows you the choices you made were ultimately and inevitably the right ones. That was your life during those spans, and looking back from here you can see what it meant. The things you built were the meaning of your life. Keep on doing it.


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