Life’s inherent beauty

The top of Mt. Philo on June 24. Photo by John Miller

When I told my husband my idea for my latest Charlotte News effort, he said, “Just don’t write anything that will make me throw up.” I’m not offended; I totally get it. A column that searches for the meaning of life has serious potential for barfdom. So, before I send anything to Melissa, it first goes to Pete. He doesn’t hold back. He is a fair and honest critic, and one of the smartest and most eloquent people I have ever met. If it passes the puke test with him, I hit “send”. 

I got some great responses to my first request for what offers meaning in our readers’ lives, and interestingly enough, they all came from men. I don’t know why. Maybe men don’t think about what gives them meaning as often as women, so having the opportunity to stop and think about it for a minute brought out new perspectives. Or maybe men think about this stuff all the time and thus were more willing to provide input. In any case, the reason why these guys wrote to me isn’t what’s important, but what they wrote is.

My favorite exposé comes from a Charlotte dad (He prefers to stay anonymous—“It’s your column, not mine.”). He shared his evolving sense of what provides meaning to his life.

“Meaningful in Life? My Plan? For what I’m going to do with my one wild and precious life? Well, I guess that question can be answered in different ways throughout my life. If you had asked me that question in my 20s, I would have said ‘huh?’ and then I would have proceeded to show you that I was doing exactly as anyone would do with a precious, young life. I would party like it was 1999 and that party would never end. I had no goals, no aspirations, no higher calling. I was here to party and that was my calling and I was good at it. The question of meaning didn’t really come up.

“As we all know parties come to an end, or maybe not an end just yet but they do shift over into a more quiet, mellow, chit-chatty sort of affair. Welcome to my 30s. I found an awesome girl, we dated for a long time, and we got married. We had a couple of kids and settled down into family life. If you had asked me at this time of my life, ‘What was precious to me? And what was my plan to do with MY precious life?’ I would have said my life was not the precious one anymore. It was the two new precious lives I had helped to bring into this world. Creating new life, feeling the love for another and starting and raising a family was what was precious and so fragile to me then. That was my PLAN even though I didn’t know it. 

“Taking care of this family was my whole purpose in life, down to the very essence of my being. I had a wife, a house, a car, two little girls. Life was hard but it was still good and felt right. But, as we all know, life likes to throw us curve balls. As the craziness of adulthood took hold, and my plans changed and morphed and I went down different paths, I didn’t think of myself but rather that precious family I had created. Jobs would come and go, but I’d do anything and everything to make it work. The idea of a career I assumed I’d have went away, and life became more like survival, but it was still good. Sometimes the toddlers, who magically and overnight morphed into kindergartners and what? middle schoolers? (how the heck did that happen?), would ask those kid questions. ‘Why don’t we have what other kids have?’  ‘Why do all our friends go somewhere warm for break but we stay here?’ Why, why, why?  From my kids’ perspective, the grass was always greener someplace else.

“It’s that moment in time, that perfect kid time, as I watch my girls laugh and cry and I feel their every loss and celebrate their every win, no matter how small, which feels like a good, long time but is so fleeting, so fast, so sand-through-the-fingers. I reach out to stop it but I know I can’t, and I realize that period of time is my precious gift—to life, to my family, to me. I didn’t recognize it then, too busy running around and working and trying to make sports games after school, and taking pictures whenever I could before the kids got too old and had to look at every picture and delete the ones they thought weren’t good enough to share.

“But just as I reach for that moment in time that, in retrospect, is so perfect and the best time of all, I dive into a new, more meaningful space, with adult girls who forge ahead with their own lives, and I get to watch and wonder and be amazed. Maybe it’s the fact that I’m getting older and I just saw my cousin, who is the same age as I am, get wheeled down the aisle for her daughter’s wedding. She’s dying of cancer, and that’s a hard to thing to see, and maybe that’s what’s brought me around to this new, powerful sense of meaning, of preciousness, of life’s inherent beauty. 

“When I think about it—I mean, really think about it—as Carrie’s request forced me to do, I would say that finding meaning, embarking on my plan for my one wild and precious life, is elusive. It’s ever-changing. It’s like sand through the fingers, and like sand, when it runs out, I just grab more. Like sand, there’s an infinite amount of meaning in this life, so I’m going to keep reaching for it. We should all literally stop in our tracks—whether we’re running late out the door for work or running off to the store for milk or even running off to some sports game for our kids. We’ll get there, and, yeah, maybe two minutes later if we stop to literally close our eyes, breathe a huge breath in through our mouths and out through our noses and to mentally tell ourselves, I’m OK, my life is OK, whatever my circumstance. 

Just take a few seconds to stop, to slow down and take a moment to assess where you are and where you’re going and that, no matter what, it’s OK and you are OK.”

Breathe in. Breathe out. Enjoy.