I got an email from an old college friend yesterday. He’s in a happy marriage, he does fulfilling work, and he has two adorable, bilingual kids who look like they just stepped out of a United Colors of Bennetton ad. He wrote, “I love this miracle of life and the chance to frolic through it for awhile; but at the other end, I wrestle with the utter pointlessness and futility of it all. After all, if the sun is going to burn out, if all this is only temporary, what difference does it make what I do?”
If he did not live in Japan, I would have punched him.
Of course life is pointless and futile! All you need to do is watch the Discovery Channel for half an hour to be reminded that our planet is a like a small freckle on the ass of a galaxy. And, as important as we’d like to think we are, the entire sum of our human achievements is, in the grand scheme, like the pop of a small noisemaker.
But so what? I always assumed that it was exactly the pointlessness of it all that allowed us to enjoy this “miracle” of life and frolic in it for a while. Since there’s no real meaning, we may as well fill our days with the things that feel meaningful to us. In my case, that happens to be making preschool shows, walking my dog, and eating Shanghainese-style soup dumplings. For you, it is (hopefully) something different (but neither more nor less meaningful.) The lack of any real point to life simply means that we can all give it a point of our own devising. Sort of like going to a liberal arts college and getting to design your own major. How awesome is that? I’d say it’s cause for rejoicing!
If the sun’s imminent demise (preceded, most likely, by our own) was a good reason to feel hopeless, then we’d all be lying on our sofas right now eating cookie dough and watching Beetlejuice. But we’re not. That’s just not how we’re built. Rather, we’re built to run and think and make shows and do calculus and prepare curry dishes. And that, really, is our main job: Filling our days with activities that make us (and our fellow humans, animals, trees, etc.) feel happy, whole, and peaceful. And this is true whether we live for another millennia or whether we die tomorrow from eating a bad soup dumpling.
I walked into a church the other day and saw a minister who was about 97 years old giving a sermon. He said, “Good things happen to bad people, bad things happen to good people. If you expect order and reason, you will be disappointed. That’s life. So, you wake up each day, and you get on with it. You do your best at whatever it is you do. Our task here is not to do something big. Being finite does not make you a failure. Our real purpose is far simpler, my friends. It’s to love.”