The Meaning of Life

 1997  Gayla Nelson

"The white man talks about the word.  He talks around it and through it. He builds upon it with syllables, with prefixes and suffixes, and hyphens and accents.  He adds and divides and multiplies the words, and he deals easily, distorts with grace and sleight of hand...."

So says N. Scott Momaday in "House Made of Dawn", a Kiowa legend about man in his perpetual search. Man does not often know what he is looking for until he finds it. (And you always find whatever you're looking for in the last place you look)

In the legend, a Kiowa man is searching for food to feed his starving children.  Weak and tired after four days of walking, he comes to a great canyon and is suddenly confronted with thunder and lightening.  A voice asks him what he wants and he tells him that his people are hungry.  The voice, which has the feet of a deer and is covered in feathers, promises to give him whatever he wants. And does.   Tai-me becomes the "Sun God" of the Kiowa people.

A solitary man on a quest for food finds God. And so the Tai-me legend is born.

Since time began we have been in search of many things: food, shelter, a mate.  But when those basic needs have been met, we then have the luxury of searching for the philosophical answers or truths; our existence and mortality, and that elusive meaning of life.  We search for wisdom through knowledge and knowledge through wisdom.    And never content, we look hard for a way to separate truth from meaning............though it can't be done.

We get so bogged down in words and their meanings.  We tend to manipulate words because of our own limitations and this human flaw provokes frustration in its wake. 

We have seen the corruption wrought by politicians who have a way with the manipulation of words, but in trying to separate truth from meaning, most of us hear  LIES.   

Which brings me to a pet peeve.  What is the deal with the word "just"?

A person can insult you, and when you question them on it they will say, "Well, I am JUST saying that I liked your hair better before."   What they said was, "Your hair looks just awful!"  For some reason though, people tend to think that by saying the word "just" that it minimizes it somehow.  Pay attention and watch for it.  It's one of the most prolific words used in sentences in modern day language.

I am "just" saying pay attention and you will hear it.

Another word that's really over-used and getting on my nerves, is the word "like".  Now, is it just me or does everyone who has any contact at all with a teenager today hear the word "like" used as every single part of speech? It's like, really getting on my, like, nerves, like, ya know?

But, I digress. 

If you have ever taken an intro to philosophy course, then you understand the concept of a premise: I think, therefore I am. 

To wit, most people think it follows that "I speak, therefore I know what I am talking about."   And there are times when I am listening to someone just talking away and all I can think is, "Blessed is the man who has nothing to say, and doesn't open his mouth to prove it."

Yeah, yeah, you know whom I am talking about. 

I want to be the person who, in seeking the truth through words, finds something real and concrete to hang onto.  I want some sort of "divine revelation".  So far, it's not happened.  I woke up once in the middle of the night KNOWING the meaning of life.  I quickly wrote it down - in detail - and the next morning when I awoke, I thought of it instantly and grabbed the paper to read what I had written.  It said:  get milk, then something undecipherable and then, "life is for us to either provoke ourselves to madness seeking the answers, or go gently through it in ignorant bliss." 

There were a few other scribblings there, but I never did ascertain what it really said.  It depressed me for weeks.  Because in those wee hours of semi-sleep, semi-consciousness, I really felt that I had actually UNDERSTOOD.

I keep journals throughout my house.  I have some journals that go back to the early 1970's.  I really know very little more than I did then, at least as far as the "big picture" goes.  Reality has kicked in a little harder and some of those more idealistic entries seem sweetly naive.  And what’s even more amazing is how long I clung to some of those young beliefs. 

Back in the pre-historic era, when I was working on my bachelors degree in English Lit, my entire life was consumed with reading all the great classics of historical literature and contemplating the meaning of each and every word. It was in especially those upper level Lit classes that I finally realized why we had been taught the diagramming of sentences in high school English and the dissection of frogs in biology. 

We dissected and disemboweled every poem, ode, epic, play and novel to such an extent that what I had thought a book or poem or whatever was about when I read it was wrong. I soon learned about all the hidden and symbolic meaning hidden from the readers eye, like html is hidden on a web page - but you know it's in there somewhere. We had to be word detectives. In the end, none of us could see the forest for the trees.

It really didn't help in the long run.  All it really taught me was that I was not alone in the universe. No one knew the meaning of life and I was not going to find it through reading; not Shakespeare, not Dostovesky, not Milton.   There apparently does not exist a word to describe it that we can understand.  

Then some time passed......okay a lot of time passed, like around 20 years or so and finally I can honestly say  that  now, today,  I  do know  the meaning of life.  Do you want to know what it is? And set your personal religion aside: eternity is after death - not living.

The meaning of life is living.  That is all.  Just living.  Living = life's meaning.  (Notice I used the word "just" here, but here it actually fits) Just as in nothing more and nothing less.

Living.  Get up, do your thing, go to bed.  Living.  Morning coffee and middle of the night phone calls that scare you to death.  Births and deaths and odd stories in the newspaper.   Living.  Breathe in, breathe out.  Laugh, cry, make love, muse, sleep, eat, talk, worry, yawn, cough, pay your taxes, fight insomnia, surf the web.  Marry, divorce, remarry, change jobs, stay out too late, drink too much, smoke too much, buy exercise equipment, diet.  Make friends, lose friends, take trips, drive your car.   Living.  Find love, lose love, keep searching for love, raise kids, fight with your spouse, clean house.

Living.  Loving.  Aging.  Dying.  That's it.  That's the big secret.  Don't knock yourself out searching for the answer, just trust me on this. The meaning of life is simply and JUST living.

 

 

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