Wednesday, December 29, 2004

The Meaning of Life, in 542 Words

My son noticed a spider on the wall near his desk.
“Kill it,” I said.
“No, he’s nice, I’ll let him be.”

Ten minutes later, passing by his room, I asked after his new friend.
“I killed it.”
“How come?”
"A second one came by. It was too much. So I killed them both.”

That, a true story, is the closest I’ve ever come to a definition of god.

From the spider’s point of view, he was minding his own business, doing spider things like wall-crawling, when his life suddenly ended for no apparent reason.

As far as we know, spiders don’t have ways of handing down lessons from one generation to the next – except perhaps evolution but that tends to work rather slowly.

People do – hence, superstition, mythology, and religion are born.

People seem to prefer cause-and-effect concepts to live by.
It’s a control thing.
Unfortunately, in all but the simplest of cases, it doesn’t work that way.

We may have control of some of the minutia of daily life, but it is a fragile as the fate of a spider on the wall.

Consider, for example, the tsunami.

One minute you are relaxing on a beach, taking a well-earned vacation in paradise.
The next, if you are lucky enough to survive, nothing.
Nothing.
No more family.
No more hotel.
No more passport, money, belongings.
Nothing.
Just like that.

One minute you have a life, a home, a community.
Schools, shops, friends, a job, a reason to be.
The next, nothing.

Repeat millions of times over half a continent.

Bin Laden in his wildest dreams couldn’t accomplish something on that scale.


There are explanations, scientific ones.
Earthquake. Tectonic plates shifting, deep beneath the ocean, pushing aside the water.
All that energy has to go somewhere.
Why here? Why now? Incomprehensible to us.

It seems odd to contemplate destruction on a global scale while sitting quietly in my safe home in North America.

If I turn off the TV it goes away.
Sort of.

Events like this can’t help but give us some perspective, albeit briefly.
The stories will fade from the news, we will go back to gazing into our own navels and that’s as it should be, because that’s how it IS.
The best that can be hoped is that we learn something, something that will stay with us.

What we learn will depend on what we need to learn.
Ideally, that is.
For the unfortunate few whose minds are snapped completely shut, there is no new insight, for even though it exists all around them they cannot recognize it.
If you think I might be talking about you, you’re probably wrong. The ones I am thinking about have no idea, none.

I have learned (re-learned, really) the obvious: that I am blessed even though some of the details of my life are less than perfect; and that sweating the small stuff is ridiculous.
I am in the process of learning (although it really hasn’t fully sunk in yet) that the only reasonable response to events like this is to try to do better, for myself. To give myself what I need to not only survive, but thrive.
Not to do so would be wasting the gifts I’ve been given.