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What is it to have "meaning?"

Updated: May 14, 2020


Maybe there is a purpose for my life. Maybe it is time I start acting like it.

My heart attack is not the first time I’ve defied the odds. It seems to be a recurring theme.

I barely remember life before having to face down my own personal angel of death. I was 14 the first time and 16 the second time. By the time I got out of high school, I was pretty much a mess.

It screwed with my head to be 15 and understand that the world will go on without me and to know that I might never get the chance to make my mark. I might never find my soulmate, to raise kids, to become somebody important, or to say things that people will remember after I’m dead. I might never have the chance to discover or invent things that will make the world a better place.

Even as a teenager it killed me inside to realize that by this time tomorrow, my entire existence could be reduced in significance to a couple of dates recorded in the family tree. My family tree is filled with names and dates of people who were, no doubt, wonderful and loving people ... but we have no knowledge of them now. Only the date of their birth and death testifies to the fact that they ever existed.

I think that for most people, these fears come eventually, but it is often later in life. I was faced with my mid-life crisis before I even had a driver’s license. They didn’t have counseling for such things back then. I dealt with things in ways that probably weren’t helpful, and definitely not healthy.

I grew up extremely loving ... and frighteningly angry. I learned to detach from human emotions. I can turn off feelings like a spigot when emotions get to be too much. And I can live a near zombie’s existence inside ... plodding through life without focus or feeling. Most of the time, though, I find a way back to joy and contentment, feeling emotions and having enthusiasm once again. But each time I am different ... like something else dies inside.

With this heart attack, however, something is different. I feel that I am missing something. I’m not just some guy who manages to escape with my life. I’m somebody who has amazingly, and repeatedly, beaten the odds. Each time it happens, I feel some elation and celebration -- I get to remain with people I love. But, it also comes with some guilt. Some so many wonderful people don’t get a second chance ... much less, three, or four. Why me? How can I have a massive heart attack -- and I get to go home the next day -- when so many truly wonderful people never even got to say goodbye to those they love?

I’ve never believed that life, or death, is used to punish or reward anyone. I’ve seen good and bad, deserving and undeserving, live and die young, as well as old. Why do I get 2nd chances, again and again?

I have also been skeptical of the notion that there is a plan--all laid out for us--and that, like an obstacle course, our path is defined without regard for our desires or our free will. I reject the notion that we are expected just to act out the scenes of some religious play lest we find ourselves in deep doo-doo with our creator. Outside of the counsel of those who are intensely religious, I just don’t see evidence for that particular belief.

But a purpose ... that is different. Perhaps we do have a purpose, and perhaps there is an expectation that we find a way to fulfill that purpose. Unlike the notion of a predestined “plan,” it might be left up to us to take the reins and find a way to make our purpose come to fruition.

So ... what is my purpose? I’m a straight-up bumpkin, what need could I possibly fill? What could be so profound that it has deemed me worthy of a second chance, and third, and fourth chance at life? What could I possibly know that I haven’t already told? What could I possibly learn that someone else hasn’t already known for a long time?

Perhaps my purpose can be found in these very threats to my existence. Perhaps my purpose is to understand how it feels when it happens; when we are triggered by the realization that our time is nearly over, and the despair we feel as we come to grips with our mortality. Perhaps my purpose is to bring peace to people as they struggle with the finality of our time being up ... and fear being forgotten ... and fear of not having mattered.

I know I found tremendous peace when I learned to write to my children. Perhaps my purpose is to bring peace to those who, like me, become overwhelmed with the nagging fear of simply disappearing ... and being forgotten. Maybe, I can show others how I found peace through writing to my children; the letters, and stories, which may allow my descendants to know me.

Maybe I can encourage others to write to their children so that they, too, can achieve a sense of immortality. We all have the opportunity to speak directly to future generations, that they may discover us, and to understand that we loved, persevered, and thrived; providing evidence that we mattered.

I don’t know. But that is the only way I can envision making a difference ... my way of being somebody’s blessing. Perhaps THAT is my purpose.

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