‘Life, what the hell’s all that about then?’
For as long as man has existed – separated as he is (and she, I don’t want to alienate my women readers!) from other creatures by the unique ability to comprehend and consider the meaning of his own mortality – he has considered whether there is meaning and purpose to his existence.
It hardly needs to be said that greater minds than mine have pondered the question and in many different ways: art, religion, philosophy, science – all are methods by which humans have pondered the great unknown in the quest for answers.
I don’t wish to disappoint anybody but I don’t have the answer (please accept my profuse apologies if you expected more from me). In fact, I would suggest that there are around seven and a half billion answers to the question and I’m afraid space and time constraints limit my ability to consider each of these.
The writer Anais Nin, is credited with the observation that:
We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are
As we are shaped by our environment, our upbringing, our culture, our trials and our triumphs, so we see the world as a reflection of our experiences; and it seems we have a drive, an instinct to find meaning. As life steers us through the madness to the mundane we search for deeper meaning, for a sense of greater purpose to accompany us through the peaks and the pitfalls along our paths.
Where is meaning to be found?
We are storytellers, each and every one of us, and we create our own meaning via the stories we tell – to others, to ourselves – those narratives that trace the stories of our lives, adding color to the past and shape to our future; stories in which we assume the starring role and assign the roles that others play, ascribing to them motives, and, with each scene, creating meanings.
The plotlines of each of our stories will contain many similarities and familiar archetypes will populate the tales we tell: the hero and the coward; the victor and the victim; the honest man and the cheat; the wise man and the fool, the ruler and the ruled.
What role do we assume for ourselves? Who do we play in the story of our own lives?
Most importantly, who holds the pen?
Do we write our own story with a steady hand, a sure stroke, a certain script? Or do we allow others to dictate to us, defining our place in our own story, determining our role, directing our character?
It is during those times when our grip on the pen is loosest that the question of meaning, our desire to flick through to the final page and check for a happy ending, is greatest. But the pages are empty.
When the pen is wrenched from our grasp and events are written by an invisible hand, do we wait for the plot to reveal itself and hope for a happy ending, or do we find a way to take our pen back, to turn to the next blank page and concentrate our efforts on writing the best chapter that we can?
A few years ago I wrote:
“Would I choose to be where I am today? Honestly? No.”
Reading it back now I can’t agree. I was focusing on the wrong part of my story, assigning meaning based on one chapter and not the story as a whole.
I am writing this chapter alone, without someone special with which to share my story, but what about the chapters that I wrote before that? What about the chapters in which I carved out a career for myself in pursuit of my passion? What about the supporting characters that populate my story and add sparkle to every page? What about the chapter in which I discovered writing and the ability to tell my stories, to seek meaning and to recognize that this chapter is but a short one in the storybook of my life? What about the chapters in which I picked myself off the floor and discovered a strength that I could scarcely believe that I had?
What about the opportunity that this chapter offers me to hone my abilities to read, to learn, and to use these to ensure that my best chapters are still to be written?
Maybe there is a greater meaning to this thing we call life, an ultimate purpose that binds each of us together in a universal dance amongst the stars. Maybe there is a supreme being to whom we shall report our findings on arrival at the garden of eternity. Or maybe it’s just about getting through it all as best we can.
None of us knows the ultimate answer; all of us are on our way to finding out.
Just make sure you don’t lose your pen along the way.
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Originally Published on Love, Laughter, Truth