A search for life’s meaning

In a different context, my children are collecting my answers to various posed questions. One of the more challenging ones has been “What do you think is the meaning of life?” Here’s my attempt at an answer.

Now there’s a question that needs more than a few paragraphs. The answer — or, rather, the search for the answer — has filled countless books. I guess one might conclude that the meaning of life for a philosopher is to discover the meaning of life. No, make that “to search for the meaning of life.”

The same also could be true for theologians. Looking at it theologically, the meaning of life might be said to be trying as much as possible to emulate the Creator, in whose image we are created. “God is love” (and thus “Love is God”), we are taught. Along this line of thought, love gives life meaning — loving others, loving creation, and acting on that love. And let’s not leave out embracing the creative process itself. Being creative can also give our lives meaning.

This is consistent with the notion that the meaning of life is to leave the world a better place than we found it.

Searching online for “meaning of life” yields some philosophical links, but at least as many literal explanations: Life means not dead or inanimate. We are still breathing, and we’re not rocks. There may be some food for philosophical thought there.

Yet, we don’t have to be philosophers, theologians or scientists to find meaning in life. We can — and, I think, often do — look for meaning in small ways, seeking answers to small questions that provide some clues to what life is essentially all about.

[Really, many of my posts on this blog speak to the question, “What do you think is the meaning of life?”]

Most of us don’t think constantly about the “big picture,” but rather look for meaning on a daily basis. Something you see, hear, feel, observe, recall or maybe just sense that causes you to feel, at that moment, I’m glad to be alive.

What are some things without which I could not live?

My children have been posing me some questions. This is the most recent. My attempt at an answer follows.

Literally, of course, I could not live without oxygen, water or food. Probably need to add “sufficient shelter from the elements” to that.


There are things without which I could likely go on living — somehow — but it would be difficult. I would have to devote more time and energy to survival. High on this list are running water, electricity and heat. Occasional power outages give me an idea of what this would be like and help me appreciate what I have.

Though they are not on the same level as these basic needs, I have likened “wi-fi and cell phones” to “water and electricity.” It’s deliberate hyperbole, yet it is unpleasant to imagine living without them. Yes, we got along fine without them before we had them, but I don’t know that we would get along fine if they went away. The same could be said — and perhaps was said before my time — about phones in general, or radio and TV, as well as cars and other mechanical forms of transportation. I suspect that as each modern convenience has been added, many have looked back and wondered, How did we ever get along without that?

I am looking beyond the physical requirements to sustain life as I ponder this question.

What comes to mind immediately is “love.” I doubt I could live without feeling and sharing love, in all three forms — God’s love, romantic love and true friendship. Part of me reacts to my own statement here by noting it sounds almost cliched to say this. But it is nonetheless true. (At a number of weddings, I’ve sung a song that asks, “Is it love that brings you here or love that brings you life?”)

I couldn’t live without my immediate family. Each member is special to me. They are the most significant source of love in my life. They also bring me much joy, which also is necessary to life. (See my blog post on perfect happiness: https://johnbecton.blog/2021/12/13/perfect-happiness/ .)

Sunshine, though it belongs in the first paragraph above, figures in here as well. It is more than just a physical necessity. The Sun sustains life even on cloudy days, but too many gray days drain the joy out of life.

And while considering joy, I think we can add “laughter” to the list of things essential for life.

I’m not sure life would be possible without music and other art forms. They provide a connection with our spiritual side that I think we need to be truly alive.

Also essential to life, I believe, is a sense of self worth. People need to feel valued. They desire to see how their presence in the world makes some kind of positive difference. They want to believe their consumption of oxygen, water and food is justified.

Without all these things, it would not be life. It would, at most, be existence.

Things can go, without saying

One of my favorite poems begins, “Because of all that goes/ without saying. . . .” The writer was one of my mentors in college, Charles David Wright. We discussed the poem, “The Goodnight,” one day in a poetry-writing seminar he taught.

He explained that “goes without saying” doesn’t just mean “needless to say.” His concern in this poem is the danger that some things can go away if not said for too long — i.e., if taken for granted.

He refers specifically to feelings between life partners. As I recall, he told us he came home from a meeting late one night and wrote this as a note to his wife, leaving it on the refrigerator for her to see first thing in the morning.

The point is also applicable to other relationships as well. Over time, without affirmation, neglected bonds can wither. Without saying they can go.

Here’s the whole poem, from the collection Early Rising, University of North Carolina Press, 1968.

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