I believe in the power of absolutes, not least because they are utterly indifferent to my belief or lack thereof. In a culture where we seem enamored of fudge factors and wiggle room, absolutes stand as a stumbling stone, a rock of offense. But their stubborn immobility makes them invaluable.
For example, one powerful absolute is that we all die some day. You might think that nothing could be a more negative force in the world than this. Indeed, much of our society seems tailored to help us forget and ignore this truth, or even to deceive ourselves into thinking it doesn’t apply to us. But when I look at my two-year-old son asleep in his crib, I discover the power of this absolute to infuse both his life and mine with purpose and meaning.
The reality of death means that I have a finite amount of time to spend on this earth, and that the choices I make in how I spend that time matter. I chose to have a son. I choose to love and nurture him to the best of my ability, and the extent to which I succeed or fail will be the primary residue of my life once it is over. And because his life will also end, how well I equip him for it will be a primary determinant of how successfully his life is spent. Ironically, the very fact that I probably will not live to see my great-grandchildren makes it vitally important that I live in a way that provides them every opportunity of happiness and success.
The reality of death is a searchlight that reveals which questions are most important in my life. Chief among these are the questions about the nature of death itself. Why do we die? Why do we live in the first place? Is physical death the end of all consciousness and existence, and if not, what does that tell me about where I came from, where I am going, and what I should do about it? If I am tempted to say that I can’t or won’t answer these questions, that I would rather spend my short time enjoying myself than grappling with such heavy responsibilities, I only have to watch my sleeping son to know better. I owe it to him to find answers to those questions, and to live by what the answers teach me. I owe it to him, and his children, and their children, to teach him those answers too.
My life matters, and therefore has value, because of death. Such is the power of just one absolute—and, like all absolutes, its stubborn immobility means that its power is always available to me, and that the value it confers cannot be taken away. I believe in absolutes, because my investment of belief in them is the only such investment that guarantees a rich return.
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