Love and Be Loved!
What is a meaningful life? What a meaningful question. I think “what is a meaningful life?” is a far better question than “what is the meaning of life?” mostly because the second sentence throws a really huge blanket over life in general, which is far bigger than any metaphorical blanket could keep warm. I mean, is it just assumed that this question is referring to human lives? Well, what about the pets we love so much that sleep beside us in bed at night, who we love so much that we’re willing to put ourselves through the tragedy of their deaths just so they can be our friends for maybe ten to fifteen years? What about their lives? Personally, I love my pets (especially my long-haired dachshund Charlie, going on 11 this July) and I think their lives can hold a hell of a lot of meaning. But I hardly think you could say Charlie’s life holds the same meaningfulness as my own.
But when you ask for a meaningful life…ahh, (That’s a sigh of satisfaction) so many possibilities are at one’s mental fingertips to pluck from the ample supply that a life has to offer.
That said, I think many people’s answers to this question will be quite similar, at least at the typically vague/broad perspective with which anyone would be liable to answer it if posed the question without ample time to prepare. Common answers, I think, would involve helping other people, seeking happiness, knowledge, fulfillment, or something along those lines. These are of course very vague/broad categories within which almost any modern individual’s perceived personal purpose will fall into. Oh, I forgot service for/faith in a higher power, that’s a big one, too. For this reason, I think that really focused, zoomed-in, specific examples from the lives of real people will provide far more satisfying answers than these worthy, yet unendearingly obscure categories.
Thinking in terms of myself, I think of a handful of specific individuals and places and even a few worldly material items when I think about the meaningfulness of my own life and existence. I think of things outside of my own existence that influence that existence in a way that feels meaningful from my own perspective. Pretty normal, nothing out of the ordinary. When I zoom in the details of these things, though — that’s when things get really unique. For instance, let me tell you about my friends Maurice and Neil and why the show Dragon Ball Z is so meaningful in my life. I’m willing to bet nobody else in the world can tell this same story with the same meaning that I can!
Maurice is essentially my brother, I’ve known the guy since age 3. Maurice has been a part of my life since before my earliest memory. That’s pretty insane, isn’t it? I literally don’t remember the part of life before knowing this guy. We’ve been best friends since then, and we awkwardly clung to each other all throughout the social hell of middle and high school, before finally parting ways at age 18 to pursue our separate aspirations in separate states. Maurice left Texas (that’s where we’re from, by the way) to study filmmaking at Virginia Commonwealth University and I came to Belmont University because the campus looked nice, I had family nearby, and I didn’t want to fill out any more college apps after receiving my acceptance letter.
When Maurice and I were young, we always played over at his house because he had a far superior collection of toys. The big ones were Legos and an impressive collection of action figures, though he also had some super cool power ranger costumes and some plastic swords that I was immensely jealous of.
The origin of Dragon Ball Z’s importance in my life is found in a big, clear plastic tub of Dragon Ball Z action figures that sits in Maurice’s parents attic to this day. Those figures came to life as our four little hands flew them around Maurice’s bedroom. He also had a lot of the TV show on VHS, and after playing and watching so much DBZ, I was hooked on it for life. Some of the most epic moments of my childhood were sitting in front of my TV at home, watching an episode of Dragon Ball Z that I’d never seen before that had a big, explosive reveal; I still look back fondly on memories of watching a few specific episodes even now.
Fast-forward something like ten years later, and Neil enters center stage. Well, not at first really. When I met Neil, I was unimpressed and kind of sullen about the fact that he and this guy Andrew (now also a very close friend) were hanging out in my living room. But at some point Neil and I got around to reminiscing, one of my absolute favorite pass-times, and we Dragon Ball Z came up in our conversation. A week later, we were meeting up at least every other day to watch Dragon Ball (the series that comes before DBZ that had aired before we were old enough to appreciate it), and by the end of the series (a school year and 153 episodes later) we were the best of friends. I consider him my closest friend, even on par with Maurice nowadays, and we still regularly watch DBZ together. The meaningfulness of DBZ doesn’t lie in it being some sort of masterpiece (it isn’t, really.) but rather in the fact that it has been a central aspect of the two closest friendships in my life.
There, that’s one example of meaningful things in my life. But, I must ask myself the question: do the meaningful things in my life make up my life’s meaning? Hm…
I believe the answer to that question is both yes and no.
Yes. I, as an individual believe the meaning of my own life, from my own perspective is almost entirely composed of those people, places and things that make every new day something I look forward to experiencing.
But no. I am but one individual person, and I have but one individual life. That life is lived among an astoundingly large multitude of other lives, and mine holds no more importance than any of the others. In this sense, my answer must be no because my life, I like to think, has some greater meaningfulness outside of my own narrow perspective!
For this essential part of the total whole of the meaningfulness of my small life, I look to my influence on other lives. I can’t help but influence in some way or another every other life that I happen across, which is a great many in any given day that I walk this earth. Most of the people I interact with, my influence is immensely small and often times not even noticeable. I’ll make quick eye contact with a stranger in the WAC, or brush against someone’s shoulder in an elevator. But these small interactions matter because sometimes the smallest of them can have a lasting effect on others. For instance, if I make eye contact with a stranger and quickly look away, perhaps furrowing my eyebrows, they could be rather put off. They could feel uncomfortable and maybe self-conscious, and that could add to a pile of other concerns that they’re fostering and add up to a really crappy day, or even something worse. So when I happen to make eye contact with strangers, I do my best to give them a smile. The best policy, I think, and something that brings a great deal of meaning to my own life, is to do ones best to spread kindness on a daily basis because there’s enough negativity around as it is.
The more compelling influence I have on others, though, is my influence on people that I’m close with. My big example here will include my two and a half year old half brother Ryne and my newborn nephew Everett.
As the next generation of human beings is making its way into existence within my own family, I find that I’m being given a responsibility to influence these children in a positive light. These two little boys are closely associated with me and they can’t help it, and vice versa. That means that no matter what I do, I’ll be influencing their lives in some way or another. If I never see them again, I could be setting an example that sometimes its okay to not be there for family, which could start a chain of negativity in my own bloodline. Instead, I plan to be the fun uncle that makes sure his nieces and nephews know the importance of winding down from time to time, but still knows when to work and not play.
To sum up all my thoughts, I think I can say that to me a meaningful life is to experience and share love with everyone that you can. That love can be as simple as the kindness of smiling at a stranger or it can be teaching your little brother how to drive because your dad’s back is going and he can’t handle the quick jolts of the clumsy stops and starts. It can be much harder and more involved than that. Maybe it means caring for a disabled family member that can’t properly bathe themselves anymore. Whatever the case, it’s important to both dish out the love and receive it in return. Without that balance, its bound to run out either on the receiving or the giving end.