The Meaning of Life

A Day to Remember

Our lives are merely a collection of experiences. We call them memories. Every one of us lives in the past, because the moment something happens it's gone forever - except in our memories. Everything that makes us comes from those experiences, which is why, when I see someone suffering from a disease like Alzheimer's, it absolutely breaks my heart. They lose themselves piece by piece as their memories are stolen from them. For me, that is a fate worse than death. It's like having your very consciousness destroyed a little at a time. Everything that gave their life meaning and purpose just fades away and what is left is merely an empty shell that has been robbed of life.

As a very introspective person, I spend a great deal of time with my thoughts and exploring my memories. At 33, I am still getting to know myself and I've come to see that this will likely never change. I continue to grow and change and experience new things every day that affect who I am and because of this, the man I am today is not the man I'll be tomorrow and he isn't the man I was yesterday. But my experiences today will affect the man I am tomorrow and I don't ever want to lose that. For all the failures, the tears, the heartbreak, and the loss - those memories are me. They are all I am. To lose even one would be to lose a part of myself. They give my life meaning and purpose. They are my life.

Forty Two

"O Deep Thought computer," he said, "the task we have designed you to perform is this. We want you to tell us...." he paused, "The Answer."

"The Answer?" said Deep Thought. "The Answer to what?"

"Life!" urged Fook.

"The Universe!" said Lunkwill.

"Everything!" they said in chorus.

Deep Thought paused for a moment's reflection.

"Tricky," he said finally.

"But can you do it?"

Again, a significant pause.

"Yes," said Deep Thought, "I can do it."

"There is an answer?" said Fook with breathless excitement.

"Yes," said Deep Thought. "Life, the Universe, and Everything. There is an answer. But, I'll have to think about it."

...

Fook glanced impatiently at his watch.

“How long?” he said.

“Seven and a half million years,” said Deep Thought.

Lunkwill and Fook blinked at each other.

“Seven and a half million years...!” they cried in chorus.

“Yes,” declaimed Deep Thought, “I said I’d have to think about it, didn’t I?"

[Seven and a half million years later.... Fook and Lunkwill are long gone, but their ancestors continue what they started]

"We are the ones who will hear," said Phouchg, "the answer to the great question of Life....!"

"The Universe...!" said Loonquawl.

"And Everything...!"

"Shhh," said Loonquawl with a slight gesture. "I think Deep Thought is preparing to speak!"

There was a moment's expectant pause while panels slowly came to life on the front of the console. Lights flashed on and off experimentally and settled down into a businesslike pattern. A soft low hum came from the communication channel.

"Good Morning," said Deep Thought at last.

"Er..good morning, O Deep Thought" said Loonquawl nervously, "do you have...er, that is..."

"An Answer for you?" interrupted Deep Thought majestically. "Yes, I have."

The two men shivered with expectancy. Their waiting had not been in vain.

"There really is one?" breathed Phouchg.

"There really is one," confirmed Deep Thought.

"To Everything? To the great Question of Life, the Universe and everything?"

"Yes."

Both of the men had been trained for this moment; their lives had been a preparation for it; they had been selected at birth as those who would witness the answer, but even so they found themselves gasping and squirming like excited children.

"And you're ready to give it to us?" urged Loonsuawl.

"I am."

"Now?"

"Now," said Deep Thought.

They both licked their dry lips.

"Though I don't think," added Deep Thought. "that you're going to like it."

"Doesn't matter!" said Phouchg. "We must know it! Now!"

"Now?" inquired Deep Thought.

"Yes! Now..."

"All right," said the computer, and settled into silence again. The two men fidgeted. The tension was unbearable.

"You're really not going to like it," observed Deep Thought.

"Tell us!"

"All right," said Deep Thought. "The Answer to the Great Question..."

"Yes..!"

"Of Life, the Universe and Everything..." said Deep Thought.

"Yes...!"

"Is..." said Deep Thought, and paused.

"Yes...!"

"Is..."

"Yes...!!!...?"

"Forty-two," said Deep Thought, with infinite majesty and calm."[1]

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There are a lot of questions which have a definitive answer, but this isn't one of them. If you think you can find it in a book, or from some greater intelligence, you're sorely mistaken. The fact is that it's subjective, just like most things of an existential nature. It isn't something you can know or be taught, you just have to experience it for yourself. But it seems that far too many people are too lazy for this or just can't be bothered. They want an easy and simple answer that comforts their conscience. They want their "forty two." There are over 7 billion people on this planet and the vast majority seem to prefer 42 as an answer, whether they understand either the answer or the question at all, than to walk the road and see where it leads. And if you need proof of this just look at how many people who have never even questioned their version of 42.

I accepted 42 in the form of the bible for most of my life. In my mind, I had the answer. But I came to find later that I never understood the damn question. The question is not what I need to do to get into heaven in the next life, but what I need to do to be happy in this life. For many theists I'm sure this sounds selfish and self-centered, but it really isn't once you understand the answer. You see, like most of us I've found that my happiness is intrinsically tied to others and their happiness. I can not be happy when I make others suffer or allow them to suffer without trying to help. I can not be happy when I have more than I need and others have nothing. I can not be happy when I see injustice and do not speak. In the end, once I understood that answer, I realized that the most selfish thing a person can do is to put the idea of an afterlife above the reality of this life. It is self serving and a complete slap in the face to every experience you have in this life. The goal of a reward or fear of punishment should not be the meaning your life has. Quite frankly, it says that you simply don't value this life at all.

"Only when you know the question will you understand the answer." [1]

How Many Roads Must a Man Walk Down

Every day I see people who talk about how grand heaven will be. They talk of its supposed beauty and splendor, and I can't help but wonder what has happened to make this life so bad that the only consolation they seem to be able to find is in the dream of an infinitely perfect afterlife. To me, that idea sounds horrible, and I'll happily tell you why.

You see, I've come to recognize that our lives are like stories in an amazing book. The greatest thing about any story is that it has a beginning and an end. When the story is good we dread getting to the end - but we also crave it. We need the ending and the resolution that it brings. Each time I watch a movie that turns out to have an intended sequel that continues the story, I find myself to be fraught with anticipation. I need the ending. When you think about life in those terms, a life without end sounds like a story I'm just not interested in. Even the best stories become tedious if they go on too long.

And what of the pain and suffering? Surely I want a life without those... right? The simple truth is that I wouldn't trade a moment of pain and suffering I've experienced for all the wealth this world has to offer. Sure, those moments still hurt to this day, but they remind me of just how much I've been through to get where I'm at now. They remind me of all my hard work and sacrifice and all the hardships I've overcome. They are a part of me, and without them I simply wouldn't know who I am today.

It's all part of the experience - part of my story. It's part of all of our stories. The tears remind us that we feel and the scars reminds us we are temporary and mortal. Without them, who would we be? I wouldn't trade that for the life of a perfect automaton. The truth is that I love this life and although I would love for it to be better, I don't want to lose the things that give it meaning and those things come with consequences both good and bad.

A Dedication

This blog is for my wife and my children, for my friends and my family, and for all those who have contributed in helping me write the story that is my life. Thank you all for giving my life meaning and purpose. Thank you for taking the time to know me and love me inspite of all my faults. This one is for you.

[1] All passages from the book The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

Photo Credits: Francis Storr

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