What Do You Mean?

A photo appeared recently on the web of a child’s delicate little hand grasping a surgeons’ finger. The child was reaching out from his mother in the midst of a C-section delivery. Could it be that even in the womb we are driven to reach out for life, meaning, for value, and purpose?

I have no memories of life at this infant stage. The memories I do have are affixed by emotions of great joy or sadness. With joy I raced with my brothers and sisters to ask Mom for money to buy ice cream from the “Mister Frosty” truck as its familiar chime like melody approached. Sadness fell upon us as Mom was not able to indulge our desire. Our joy plummeted to sadness in moments? Was disappointment and unfulfilled desire part of the meaning of life?

Mom died of rheumatic fever when I was 5 years old. I gazed into the reality that I had lost the first person who gave me meaning.

As a child I tried to find meaning in the basics; food and shelter, toys and games, movies, entertainment and music. At the holidays we would enjoy delicious food and large family gatherings. New clothing from Christmas would help define us as children of the 60’s. Our homes, our church and loved ones would shelter us from natural and cultural storms. The television, radio and magazines would entertain, educate, inspire and corrupt us.

Growing up Catholic, I had studied the Catechism which had answers to the big questions of life;Who is God? Who is man? What is man’s purpose? etc. In High School I began questioning my understanding of these ideas, searching for the truth.

My Dad died from a heart attack in 1972. When many of my classmates consoled me I realized I had friends who cared about me and enjoyed my company and shared my yearning for discovery. We explored the experience of alcohol and drugs together. After graduating I worked a few years and then decided to fund my way through college. Exploring experiences that seemed exciting along the way, life was now about experience and pleasure, indulging my flesh and numbing my mind. I had taken the advice of the infamous 70’s LSD advocate psychologist Timothy Leary “Turn on, Tune in, Drop out.” 1.

A drug induced brush with death (real or imagined) awakened me to the fact that I needed God in my life more than ever. I had encountered fear and as Huey Newton said “My fear was not of death itself, but a death without meaning.”2. After many hours of sleeplessness, sweating and prayer I determined to break free from the evil that was about to destroy me. I cried out to God. I felt His prompting to get on with life, marry the girl He blessed me with and draw closer to Him. Since then we have had 5 children, raised them to adulthood and now are enjoying the blessing of 5 grandchildren.

Each day consciously and subconsciously my search for meaning continues. Approaching 60 I have again the small luxury of time to contemplate life. In this blog I will share a part of my journey in exploring what scholars and others have to say about the meaning of life.

What is the meaning of life? Perhaps the search itself is part of the meaning and is as instinctive as a child reaching out to grab hold of someone’s finger.

1  “Turn on, tune in, drop out” is a counterculture-era phrase popularized by Timothy Leary in 1966. Wikipedia

2  Huey Percy Newton (February 17, 1942 – August 22, 1989) was an African-American political activist        and revolutionary who, along with Bobby Seale, co-founded the Black Panther Party in 1966.

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