EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: Paul offers his views on the meaning and purpose of life.
THE CRITICS EJACULATE! “The Grand Fraud of Blogging American, Paul Sunstone, excretes his opinions about the meaning and purpose of life in what can only be considered a shameless act of public urination. Life is fully terrifying enough without the addition of his muddled and confused vision for embracing it. I must insist upon the return of the guillotine. I must insist upon the return of justice to our world.” — Aloyse Leblanc, Le Critique Passionné de Blog, “La Tribune Linville”, Linville, France.
(About a 6 minute read)
The band is playing, the music is beautiful, the stars are out, the drinks are free. The only catch seems to be the floor has begun to tilt, and you are sinking. It is a beautiful night, but you are aboard the Titanic, and you are sinking.
In so many ways, that can be at times the very nature, the very essence of life. Life. So beautiful. So sad.
Perhaps in some ways, life is always that way. After all, in the end we die. Or as if that were not enough, the ancient Athenians might seem to you to have gotten it right. We humans, our nature is inherently flawed. We are born to a tragic flaw in our nature.
Not only do we all die in the end, but so often, our demise is fated, is brought about by our hand, by our tragic flaw.
What is a superior ape to do?
Of course, most of us run. In one way or another, we run from the knowledge that invariably, the floor will begin to tilt, the constellations will take on new angles, the band will falter, and we will go down. In a myriad ways, we run.
There are whole libraries written about the ways in which we run, in which we try to escape the facts of life.
But suppose for a moment that you decide not to run. What is life like — what can life be — if you do not run?
People tell you will forever feel meaningless, purposeless, adrift, and hopeless. That is what people tell you. But are they telling you the truth? Are not the people who say such things the same people who are the first to clutch at straws, the first to run, the first to deny they are truly aboard a sinking ship?
I think people who tell you that you will forever feel empty and devoid of all meaning and purpose are merely speculating. I think the feelings they have are real — quite real, sometimes — but I think they run from those feelings too soon to notice that they do not last forever. They run from them too soon to notice they are transitory.
I myself have noticed that — once you truly and fully accept and embrace that you will die; that if nothing worse, you will die — then the bad feelings soon enough go away.
It is like so much in life. Once you accept it — whatever it is — it not only becomes bearable, but you might even begin to enjoy it. I have friends — natural born athletes — who have told me they love physical pain. They say they “sink into it, accept it”, and then it becomes life enhancing. And then, it makes them feel alive.
Josh was a case in point. A young man, and at one time my much younger roommate, Josh had many flaws. But he was spirited. Rarely have I known someone as spirited in some ways as Josh.
I would now and then try to describe him to someone. “My roommate might better fit in with a tribal people, such as the Cheyenne or the Arapaho of the 1820s, than with us today. He likes to fight, but he has the spirit — not of a gangster — but of a warrior.
“Josh fights to protect his friends, protect his tribe. Josh fights to protect his honor and independence, but Josh fights after the first punch is thrown. If you anger him, if you piss him off, he will taunt you, he will encourage you to throw that first punch. Don’t do it.”
Josh was twenty years younger than me, a born fighter, but when we roomed together his respect for me seemed primeval, deeply rooted in the respect “uncivilized” humans naturally feel for their elders.
Josh was among those who have told me that he “sank into, accepted pain”. In a fight, he enjoyed being punched. “I like it when they pull a knife on me.”
“Why is that?”
“I’m not sure, but I think because it adds to the challenge. I think because it spices things up. And it shows they are scared. I love their fear. It’s inspiring. Know what I mean?”
“Yes, Josh, and so do wolves. Wolves too know how their prey’s fear inspires them.”
I sometimes think of Josh’s attitude towards his opponents as a bit similar to the attitude we are blessed to be able to take towards the inevitable evils of life.
The gods may have screwed us when it comes to making life sad, but then — we should be grateful — for they gave us the pleasures of defiance.
Possibly, the thing I value most in life is authenticity, being true to oneself. Now and then I am able to help someone who has been knocked off course a bit find his or her way back to being as authentic as is reasonably possible. For me, that is a defiant gesture.
It feels to me just like my band is playing as the ship sinks — playing one of the sweetest songs I know. To me, just about the worse thing that could happen is there would be nothing about life to defy. Maybe that’s why heaven doesn’t interest me — there is nothing to stand against, nothing to challenge the saints. Heaven might be a place I would hate.
But isn’t it all meaningless in the end? But isn’t it all purposeless?
So what? What is the purpose of eating ice cream? What is the meaning of painting a portrait? What is the justification for singing? Why would anyone turn cartwheels in the rain? Do you not breath though you will die? Do you not eat though you will die? Do you not create though you will die? Do you not love though you will die?
There was once a poet who lived in my hometown. He was briefly famous around 1900 for a book of poems. Here is an excerpt from one of those poems, a poem about his grandmother.
“What is this I hear of sorrow and weariness,
Anger, discontent and drooping hopes?
Degenerate sons and daughters,
Life is too strong for you —
It takes life to love Life.”
This essay was inspired by a private conversation between the brilliant and precocious Anupriya Kumari and myself. It was she who suggested the image of the Titanic. You can check out her poetry blog here.