What Does It All Mean?
I’ve become somewhat of an expert on ceiling tiles in commercial-type buildings. I’ve spent a lot of time on my back looking at them. Wait … that didn’t sound right. What I meant to say was I’ve been in lots of situations where my view was nothing but the ceiling … nope, still sounds nasty.
I’ll try again. I’m a cancer survivor and over the years my appointments, treatments, surgeries, and other procedures have placed me in a bed or chair looking up at all too familiar ceiling tiles. There’s always a lot of “hurry up and wait” during those visits and the picture is similar each time. I often pass the time by reading, listening to music, or just thinking.
During the moments I’m “just thinking”, my mind can go anywhere. One minute I could be considering the size of the universe and the next I’m questioning why I didn’t come up with the idea for the squeeze ketchup bottle.
Dealing with health issues and life in general prompts me to have some serious discussions with God about life, faith, and what comes next. I’ve had deep thoughts that would make Jack Handey proud. Hopefully you remember him from Saturday Night Live back in the 90s. I trust my ruminations are more meaningful than Jack’s, but who am I to judge.
I’m worried I have passed down my version of thinking to my oldest daughter. Years ago I recall watching her on a swing in our backyard with this pensive look on her face. I walked out to ask what she was thinking about and she replied, “Oh, just contemplating life Dad.” First I thought, “What 10-year-old is contemplating life?”, and then I thought, “Oh Lord, what have I done to her?”
All this thinking talk reminds me of a bit Jerry Seinfeld did in his first stand-up gig following his television series. He was discussing how differently men and women think about things and he addressed the women in the audience with “Do you want to know what men are thinking about?” A resounding “YES” came from the crowd. “Do you really want to know what men are thinking about?” Another loud “YES” from the ladies. “I’ll tell you what men are thinking about … after a long pause he said … “Nothing.” That’s awesome … and a little bit true.
As a man I agree there may be some truth to that statement, but I’d also say it’s common to reach a point in our lives that we start thinking about bigger things. What exactly are bigger things? My guess is the answer is different for each of us. I would also guess our individual life experiences and perspectives play a major role in determining our deep thoughts.
Regardless of circumstances, many of us start to think about our own lives and what it all really means. I took a wonderful golf trip a few years ago with my dad and brother-in-law and one day after playing we drove through some charming countryside. As we passed a beautiful field there was a roadside building shaped like a huge duck. We stopped, got a few pictures and laughed. We drove a few more miles in silence and with his face pressed close to the window, peering out over the fields, my dad said, “What does it all mean?” We laughed again for several minutes and that question became our mantra during the trip.
Maybe it was the beautiful view, the camaraderie, a few adult beverages - or just the gigantic duck, but somewhere in that question was sincerity. I don’t know about you, but I really do want to know what it all means. I have so many questions I want to be answered … like, right now.
As a child and young adult, most of my why questions had to do with me. As I grow older my questions have started to turn more outward. What am I doing to make the world a better place? How am I helping others in need? What kind of example am I setting for my children? Surely this whole humankind thing is not just about satisfying our own wants and desires. There has to be more.
When I ask myself these questions, I don’t always like the answer. I’m not sure being a decent human being is enough. The world is more complicated and the needs of others can be overwhelming to think about. This life may never afford us the answer to “what it all means”, but I believe we all want our lives to have meaning. The best I can tell, the more we do for others; the more meaning our own lives gain.
This is heady stuff and I wish I had great answers to the things that send us to our backyard swings to contemplate life. I do know that simply asking and never doing will answer nothing.
There are answers in doing.
There is meaning in doing.
Let’s get on with the doing.
As you deal with the tough questions of this existence, I’ll leave you with this Jack Handey favorite: