I was around six years old when one weekend morning I approached my dad as he was shaving at the bathroom sink. “Dad”, I asked, “is Jimmy in Heaven?” Jimmy was my first cousin once removed, but we were close like cousins. We were the same age and he had just died from cancer. My dad paused a moment and said, Yes, he’s with God now.” I knew why Jimmy died, but it would be many years before I asked why he and the rest of us live or have lived.
I had a life-changing class in eleventh grade called “Humanities”. In it, we thought and wrote about various topics including such questions as “What is the meaning of life?” and “What’s my purpose?” Often I asked these questions and often I surrendered to the mystery and perplexity surrounding them; however, what was important were the questions, not the answers. I once heard somebody say, “If you’re having difficulty finding an answer, then perhaps you’re not asking the right question.” This wisdom taught me to change my questions and to understand the definitions of words I use in questions. I know the word “meaning” can mean “significance” and the word “purpose” can mean “that which we aim for”. If the purpose is the destination, then perhaps the meaning of life is the journey.
I believe there is a meaning each life form shares, from those just conceived to the oldest of the old and from the microscopic creatures to the macroscopic planet. To live, all living things must survive — But to what end or purpose? For life that has the ability to think, survival may not provide enough meaning. About twenty years after the eleventh grade, I remember thinking about babies and how they depend on others for survival. Eventually they learn and as they grow they become more independent. Therefore, they survive so they may learn, but again “to what end or purpose?” As they continue to survive and learn, they may contribute to their families and communities in some capacity — And yet again, “to what end or purpose?”
When I pondered this further, I was excited to discover that by contributing to others, a cycle was created that had no end except for the end of all Humanity. When I contribute to Humanity in general, Humanity may contribute to me such that I can contribute again to Humanity. I concluded that the meaning of my life is: To survive, so I may learn, so I may contribute, so that others may survive, learn, and/or contribute. In other words, survival provides some meaning while learning provides more and contributing provides the most.
As for my purpose, the destination, I may not know it until I reach the end of my life; however, my purpose may be the sum of all my contributions. One thing I am sure of, though, is that Jimmy’s few years of life definitely had meaning and a purpose — This I believe.