Monday, February 27, 2012

The Meaning of Life


A friend invited a number of colleagues to submit their views on The Meaning of Life for a book he was compiling.  As I thought about it, it occurred to me that might be the wrong question. Life itself has no intrinsic meaning; it's an empty vessel, waiting to be filled.

The real question should be what gives life meaning? Or what makes a meaningful life?  If you watch ants moving grains of sand, gaze at a gliding bird of prey, or admire the silent majesty of a centuries old Sequoia,  simply being seems to have meaning enough.

But for people, a meaningful life is often measured in more relative terms, such as the contribution one makes to the world during one’s lifetime.  But does the life of a severely disabled child, wholly dependent on others for subsistence and living only a few short years, have less meaning than that of a doctor who dedicates his life to research to discover the secrets of the imperfect human body?

Contemplate the question as you examine the black and white photograph of just such a girl, standing naked, her head grasped too firmly in the large hands of just such a doctor, as he prepares her for a lethal injection.  His research has determined that her imperfections, and those of thousands like her, must be eliminated from the gene pool in a quest for a more perfect race.  Her life deemed to have no meaning.  Her pained and haunting gaze stares out at us from a display in the U.S Holocaust Memorial Museum. More than sixty years after her death, she is still stirring profound emotions. Teaching profound lessons.

A meaningful life can indeed be measured by the impact it has on those around it.  And even the humblest of lives can send powerful ripples across the surface of time as they continue to touch others for generations to come.