Someone wise once said: "If you keep asking questions, you'll keep getting answers."* This has been somewhat of a theme in my life, as I'm sure it has been for many people. So, in the true spirit of mankind, I will ask another question today.
Everything meant something when I was growing up. Words, events, maybe even a look I was given, held incalculable meaning for me. It was exciting to step outside because there was something meaningful out there to find, and I felt it was good. I would savor moments of happiness not as ends in themselves, but as a promise; part of a continuous thread in my life that would counteract some distant moment of sadness or doubt. I saw the difficult times as a test or a lesson in disguise, and every book I read and movie I watched surely could teach me something about the road ahead.
I don't know when it was in the last year that my concept of meaning started to change, but it has gradually and inescapably occurred. Perhaps its for the best. Finding meaning in things that may not be meaningful, a lesson, a test, or a spark to put in a bottle for a dark day, sounds healthy. Letting go of the idea that everything must have some meaning might be freeing, both for me and the objects and people that I task with the responsibility of being constantly meaningful. I do think that everything still has meaning, but in the sense that circumstances and events are the result of an exercise of free will and the consequences of that, instead of say, the universe whispering in my ear. For instance, say something terrible were to happen to me right now (knocks on wood), I could see it as a punishment, which it very well may be, or it could be the result of a decision or a long line of decisions that I, or someone else, has made. I don't have the authority to say which is correct, but the alternative possibilities to some grand design besides that of humanity, are there.
Before this gets too confusing: I don't know if meaning is found in the same places I found it when I was a kid. Further, I don't know if I've ever found meaning at all. If meaning is relative, then yes I did. If it is static, then I could have, but how will I ever know for sure? Hopefully my dilemma is becoming clearer now.
As I move into 'adulthood' (shudder), I am starting to see that decisions and the pathways I choose are influenced by what I find meaningful. This is common. The problem occurs when you lose sight of what is meaningful. Its like dropping your compass overboard. I find that it is very troubling to try and navigate through life when you have no particular place you want to go. Sure, sailing on the waters of self-independence with nothing but your wits sounds like complete freedom, but with no place to land are you still free or just trapped in the ocean of possibilities? Why go sailing at all at that point?
Now that you know a little more about me, maybe its time to get to the point. My question is: Where does meaning come from?
Just to spitball for a second: Love, happiness, family, staying in shape, living well, living long, fun, knowledge, honor, money, sex, security, adventure, legacy, wisdom, experiences, human connection, religion, charity, being a good person, teaching, working, writing, stories, houses, traveling, fame, diamonds, video games...how is it that people can both find meaning in these things, among many others, and some people cannot? What characteristics do the common core of meaningful pursuits that bind the hearts of humanity together, share? Do they all point to some larger picture that you have to stand really far back to see? Will I ever stand back far enough? Will I ever know if anything I do is meaningful, or if meaning is just a coping construct that will propel me through life? Is is just a matter of getting outside my own small view of the world long enough to see a larger plan? If so, how?
I do not mean to be too troublesome in asking these questions. I know that humankind has asked this of themselves during every age and every lifetime, and that our answers to it are varied and too numerous to count. Personally, however, for there to be any hope of finding a meaningful life these questions need to be asked, if not answered. I will not pretend to know, or ignore the fact that I don't.
In retrospect, part of me wants to return to the kid I was who found meaning in the most ordinary things and felt as if he was being told secrets kept since the beginning of time. On the other hand, part of me stands gazing at those secrets and stockpiles of what I thought was truth and whispers: "How can you be what you say you are?"
*It was Ms. Frizzle from Magic School Bus.