Why am I here? What should I do? Where should I go? With whom? What will happen when I am gone? Why is there so much pain? What is the meaning of life?
We are fortunate to have become sentient life forms. Evolution allowed us to reach this point. However, the capacity to comprehend does not lend any more purpose to our existence than has an ant, a fish or a bird. Our purpose in life is, quite simply, procreation. Make more humans and we have accomplished our reason for being here.
Yet, we have the capacity to do more, to be more, and to act in ways that benefit others. We can appreciate our existence, manipulate our environment and improve the lives of others. We can be moral, compassionate and ethical. Some may describe this as egocentric nihilism. So, be it. It can be in our nature to enhance the condition of humanity and improve the quality of our environment.
Some of the most beautiful and gifted people perish at a young age. Some of the most terrible monsters enjoy long comfortable lives. There is no rhyme or reason to the symphony of life. It is tragic, electrifying, magnificent, and terrifying - all at the same time. Are we confined to the role of observant passenger throughout the passage of time? Can we act in ways that impact society, benefiting future generations? Can we impart this value to our progeny? Whether or not this is our destiny, the prospect exists and its meaning calls through the silence of time to all of us.
We do not exist to do something or to be someone. Although we have innate gifts, randomness plays a critical role. We are born into to wealth or poverty. Our parents love us or beat us. The randomness of our birth condemns us to poverty or places us in circumstances of great wealth; we receive superior guidance from a loving family, or we are thrown into the cold, dark world as orphans. Yet there are those who overcome such travesties of unfortunate circumstance. Some of the most depressed people are wealthy beyond avarice, as are many of the physically beautiful. Conversely, some of the most unattractive, deprived people are also the happiest. We strive to consume, to own and to possess. We learn, work and achieve. But, are we fulfilled?
Our destiny is created through decisions. It is the only true freedom that any of us have. The consequences of our decisions create or deny opportunities. We can overcome severe impediments by virtue of our ability to reason and act wisely. This is not our purpose. Rather, it is a gift. How we use this gift determines our legacy.
A metaphysical explanation for death, heaven, God, alternate dimensions or a parallel universe is not required for us to feel satisfied. Happiness has little to do with ideations of conscience or delusions of morality. The Torah teaches us that whoever saves a person saves the whole world in turn. If there is any meaning in life it is that we have the capacity to help others. We can touch lives and make them better. The context of this morality is compassion. Compassion ennobles humanity and enhances its significance. The human soul does not thrive on value (Nietzsche). It thrives on love and compassion. We have the capacity to grow beyond our self-centered ego. What we do with our lives echoes throughout eternity in those who remember us. The doorway to this reward is ethical behavior. Yes, it is subjective. But reason and logic alone leave us wanting.
The currency of life is empathy. The more we give, the more we receive. Anyone can be wealthy in this regard. Environmental conditions and strength of purpose allow someone with a short, miserable life in painful squalor to become happy and fulfilled. Accomplishment comes from the knowledge that one’s presence in life improved the world in some way. A search for further meaning is superfluous.
Time is the fire in which we slowly burn. Its flames prick our skin always. Time surrounds us in silent, smoldering malevolence, ever gaining upon our retreat. There is no escape. Death is liberation, not exoneration. The fact that we have only one shot at life makes each moment, each interaction, critical. There are no second chances.
Why do we fear death? Death is simply the normal end to life. It is a release for many and a desire for those who suffer. We mourn lost loved ones. The gaping emptiness is unbearable. Yet, through the sadness and mourning, despite the certainty that they are gone forever, we can rejoice in the way that they touched our life. We can remember their love and pass it along to others.
Humanity grasps an optimistic picture of existence after death. Captivated by a fabricated ideation of heaven, we blunder through life assuming that our ends will more than justify the means. We blindly assume that a “good” deity would always take us into his bosom, allowing us to partake of heavenly bliss. In reality, we are responsible for everything that we do or say. Our actions have consequences. We can help or hurt, assist or ignore, tolerate or hate. And, while it may appear that death is a brick wall upon whose edifice all of our lives must crash, our actions in life echo through eternity. Our behaviors resonate through time, reflecting and refracting across everyone that we encounter and those whom they meet. The resulting clarity becomes the character of our legacy. Good or bad, right or wrong, the remote memory of our existence will be defined by our past and current actions and attitudes.
The noblest effort in our meager existence is to impart value to our progeny’s existence. We can teach our children to respect and honor humanity in all forms; and, to value the differences among us, not fear them. If we are successful, then our lives will be fulfilled. And, when we are gone, our children will rejoice in the way that we touched their lives. This is the meaning of our existence - to touch others in a positive way and to be remembered as a person who values life and improves the world.
Charles S. Weinblatt
Author, Jacob's Courage