Finding purpose in life. Knowing what to do and when to do it.
You can either go out “there” or stay inside.
It’s daunting to go out “there” when all you hear are stories about people being shot at or burned alive.
What’s frightfully comical is the possibility of being struck in the head by a bullet.
Perhaps you’ve heard the story of the man who fired a bullet through his floor into a neighboring apartment, or the Texan congressman whose skull was pierced by celebratory gunfire, or the boy who was killed by a bullet fired from two miles away, or the gunman who randomly shot an elderly man on the street in broad daylight?
So many ways to die if one isn’t careful, and even if one is careful, there’s still no guarantee.
The sad thing is we hope it’ll never happen to us, but odds are it’ll happen.
When you set foot on a plane, you relinquish all control. You place your trust in the company who hired the pilots to fly you safely to your destination. You force yourself to believe that the plane has been properly maintained by the right people. And you pray you won’t end up on the news as another run-of-the-mill statistic in aviation fatalities.
Similarly, when you turn on your car’s ignition, you embark on a perilous journey fraught with bad drivers. Their lives are in your hands, and your life is in their hands. Lose focus for just one second and you forfeit the remainder of your already brief existence, or forever change the life of another human being.
It’s happened to me on several occasions.
My father, for example, was hit by a car that rendered him paralyzed from the head down. The lives of everyone in my family changed due to the actions of single careless driver.
Why did she do it?
Because she was in a hurry to get somewhere.
Instead of thinking about the safety of her fellow human beings on the road, she opted to run a red light.
That decision propelled a good man off his motorcycle, sending him head first into a concrete wall.
According to the police, pieces of my father’s brain had been scattered around the scene.
Sigh. My father was an adventurous man who simply wanted to travel the world. He didn’t worry too much about what could happen; he simply lived each day as if it were his last.
And that day turned out to be his last. He was only in his 30s when it happened.
So, as a man who has already lived a considerable portion of his life, I sit here, staring blankly at my front door.
I catch a glimmer of light through the leaded glass.
I admit: It’s deceptively beautiful.
Should I risk it, though (e.g., the pollution, the bad drivers, the psychopaths, the sun’s harmful UV rays, the poisonous little critters that scurry about)?
I return my gaze to the computer and resume typing.
I laugh at the delusions we create for ourselves. Without a doubt, we don’t live on a peaceful little planet, but for some reason we want our children to think so.
Growing up, I sure did.
Every day we have people gorging themselves with food, bickering with their neighbors, dying in politically-instigated wars–lying, cheating, gossiping, complaining, plotting, crying, hoping, judging, and so on, and so on, and so on.
The only good that comes out of all this collective suffering is a small group of people who watch over those who can’t care for themselves, who sacrifice decades of their own lives to ensure the survival of another human being–not out of money or necessity, but out of a profound sense of selflessness, an unyielding compassion that arises naturally from their inner being.
But witnessing such sacrifice prompts those who know very little about altruism to ask:
“Why do you do it? Why don’t you just find someone else who can take care of themselves? Try to enjoy the rest of your life while you can.”
I’m specifically talking about my mother who’s sacrificing her well-being for my disabled father.
Whenever people see her looking after my father–changing his diapers, massaging him three times a day, pulling him up in bed by herself, turning him every four to six hours–they become incredulous, probably because they could never see themselves doing that for another person.
For over two decades, my mother has committed herself to honoring the same daily routine. She swears that she’ll keep doing it until it’s her time to go.
I’ve tried to help her, but she’s really picky about how she wants my father to be cared for.
“Honey, don’t worry. Help me only when I ask for it.”
What is a loving son to do?
I wonder: If someone I loved became completely paralyzed–unable to walk, to talk, and to eat–could I spend the remainder of my life caring for him or her?
The word YES immediately pops into my mind, and of course I’d do my best, but would I… really go through with it?
In the beginning, my ultimate goal was to travel the world, learn new languages, and make new friends. I did most of that in college and in grad school.
Now that I’m older, I’ve realized the inherent dangers of the world. Many of the things I used to do, I don’t do anymore.
- No more eating in restaurants with low health inspection ratings.
- No more eating highly processed foods or foods that have been genetically modified.
- No more traveling to foreign countries that stifle free speech.
- No more traveling to foreign countries that fail to uphold adequate food quality standards.
- No more traveling to countries with an influx of terrorists and refugees.
- No more driving on poorly maintained roads and accident-prone highways.
- No more flying on airlines with a history of fatalities (e.g., United, American, Delta).
- No more buying products from countries like China. Made in the U.S.A. only.
What do I have left after imposing all of these restrictions on myself?
My home, a relative safe haven.
A place where I can watch the world drift by on a computer screen.
Where I can make politically incendiary comments online.
So…what’s the point of living?
Even if Dr. Aubrey de Grey were to develop a cure for aging by 2030, I’d still die someday. If not by old age, then from something else. Perhaps the explosion of a collapsing star?
But, again, what’s the point of having a limitless existence without any inherent purpose or meaning?
- I don’t require material possessions.
- I don’t need to make a lot of money.
- I don’t need to travel the world when it’s already at my fingertips.
- I don’t need to risk my life by traversing the earth in some man-made metal box.
So what do I do?
Just sit here and be nice to anyone who crosses my path?
Hey, I guess so. It’s better than the alternative: Dying and ceasing to exist.