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The Meaning of Life

I was going to write about poverty and hunger in the United States and how it disproportionately effects young people of color and how that translates into prisons that are disproportionately filled with older people of color and how it is all a straight and unbroken line from white privilege and slavery to the institutionalized slavery of our penal system but then I realized it would look like I simply cut and pasted from past stories in the Washington Post so instead I decided to write about the meaning of life.

I’m convinced that I will understand the meaning of life when I stop asking what is the meaning of life and I have no idea what that means but I have collected a series of meaningful quotes that I’m trying to understand in an existential way. Monte Python put it so well when he described the group of fish in a posh restaurant’s tank who are swimming together casually, until they see the customers outside of the tank and see their friend Howard being eaten and it leads them to question the meaning of life.

In conclusion, Monte Python determined the meaning of life is to “Try and be nice to people, avoid eating fat, read a good book every now and then, get some walking in, and try and live together in peace and harmony with people of all creeds and nations.”

Beyond that immeasurable and indefatigable though incredibly trite bit of advice, the underground poet and novelist, Charles Bukowski, asked “Can you remember who you were before the world told you who you should be?” To that, I answer that I have never changed although I look like I have changed and sometimes I convince myself that I have changed but then I turn on the light and see I am exactly like I was, for good or bad.

Hunter S. Thompson, the gonzo journalist, advised that in order to maintain sanity we should “create a place for people to live like human beings, instead of slaves to some bullshit concept of Progress that is driving us all mad.”

Psychiatrist Carl Jung pondered about finding peace in recognizing that we are all basically the same and that while some people may have longer legs than others or grow longer beards, “In the shadow we are exactly like everybody: In the night all cats are grey-there is no difference.”

Possibly maintaining optimism is the key to meaning in life, apart from a visit to a Hawaiian restaurant with a medieval torture theme, again taking a bit from Monte Python.

On the subject of optimism, the poet Boris Pasternak told us to always remember “You must never, under any circumstances, despair. To hope and to act, these are our duties in misfortune” and that “Man is born to live, not to prepare for life.”

I would be quick to appreciate the value and profundity of the words of an unidentified writer who reminded that “Within each one of us is that child that looked at the world with wonder.” And I so yearn to let that child breathe and enjoy the world.

Ludwig Von Mises, Austrian sociologist and economist, spoke about finding serenity through our collective responsibility to improve society and to save it from calamity and his words are as relevant to this moment as ever.

“Everyone carries a part of society on his shoulders; no one is relieved of his share of responsibility by others. And no one can find a safe way out for himself if society is sweeping toward destruction. Therefore, everyone, in his own interests, must thrust himself vigorously into the intellectual battle. None can stand aside with unconcern; the interest of everyone hangs on the result. Whether he chooses or not, every man is drawn into the great historical struggle, the decisive battle into which our epoch has plunged us.”

A Zen saying goes “words are the fog one has to see through” and I say that we too often get entangled and lost in our words and misunderstanding the language of others and maybe the best tact is to just shut up and observe and enjoy. Which leads to words of advice from Carl Jung who said that “Knowing your own darkness is the best method for dealing with the darkness of other people” and that “Solitude is for me a fount of healing which makes my life worth living. Talking is often a torment for me and I need many days of silence to recover from the futility of words.”

The poet Alan Ginsberg, in his legendary poem “Howl,” made observations about the universality and timelessness of life, when he said:

“I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness, starving hysterical naked,

dragging themselves through the negro streets at dawn looking for an angry fix,

angelheaded hipsters burning for the ancient heavenly connection to the starry dynamo in the machinery of night,

who poverty and tatters and hollow-eyed and high sat up smoking in the supernatural darkness of cold-water flats floating across the tops of cities contemplating jazz.”

Ginsberg offered advice for excavating the importance of life when he said, “I have no other possession of value but my soul.”

Indian philosopher Jiddu Krishnamurti concluded that solitary moments can clean the mind and protect it from corruption.

“It is very important to go out alone, to sit under a tree — not with a book, not with a companion, but by yourself — and observe the falling of a leaf, hear the lapping of the water, the fishermen’s song, watch the flight of a bird, and of your own thoughts as they chase each other across the space of your mind. If you are able to be alone and watch these things, then you will discover extraordinary riches which no government can tax, no human agency can corrupt, and which can never be destroyed.”

And for my parting comments I leave you with this:

“No matter how big and bad you are, when a two year old hands you a toy phone, you answer it.”

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Journalist for 40 years and now a creative writer

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