Posts Tagged ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’

LEGACY 21: The Legacy of Asking Key Questions

July 13, 2018

It’s been several weeks since I’ve written a blog myself, but the idea for one popped up this morning when I awoke. We (my wife and I) are on our way to northwest Ohio (a 12-hour drive) to wrap up the affairs of her 93-year-old father, who died (preferable in my book to the somewhat euphemistic “passed”) this past Tuesday. In his waning days, he asked a relative, “What is the purpose of life?” The relative, definitely younger and less experienced in life, was taken aback and, not knowing how to answer, didn’t respond. She said she wished she had known what was going on and said something. I’m not sure that was the important thing. Can we ever really know if we say the right thing?

So I found myself thinking, “What are the key questions we should ask?”

What prompts us to ask? What is the purpose of asking? Do we really want answers? Or are we looking for something attendant—Relationship? Mere information? Satisfying our curiosity? (Why is it that children are always asking WHY? and we as adults stop asking?)

There are 2 kinds of questions—unimportant and important. Key questions definitely fit into the latter. But there are probably a host of questions that are important but not key. So let’s keep delving down into levels of importance and “key-ness.”

There are questions that identify information that matters, as opposed to trivia. There are questions that help influence decision-making. And there are questions that change our lives. I’m not a philosopher, so questions of epistemology (the theory of the nature of knowledge) I’m not qualified to begin to answer. How much can be known? The answer is the Question of the Ages: Who knows? (and if you respond in pat theological certainty, “God knows!”—how do you know that? And the begging questions, “Are there things He doesn’t know?” And on and on it goes…)

In my little, often-unknowing mind, there are a few KEY key questions for sure. My father-in-law asked one of them: “What is the purpose of life?” It can be asked in other ways or with other nuances: “Why am I here?” “How can I find meaning/significance?” “What do I need to be doing with my life?” Viktor Frankl’s 1946 book MAN’S SEARCH FOR MEANING (according to a 1991 survey conducted by the US Library of Congress and Book of the Month Club, one of the 10 Most Influential Books in the US. See Wikipedia under the term “MAN’S SEARCH FOR MEANING.” A humorous footnote: The archived article, from the NY Times, has 13 total books listed. Five of them, including Frankl’s, are tied for 9th place. There is no actual 10th place book.)

Key questions revolve around key needs: purpose, relationship, legacy. What will I leave behind? (Why do I blog? What do I gain by it?)

My father-in-law was one of the most purposeful and effective men I’ve ever met. He lived a full and productive life and left a great legacy for his family and his world.

I wish I could ask him now, “What did you mean by that question? Do you have an answer? Was it the answer you expected? Is it the answer you wanted?” and “Are you still asking questions? If so, why?” And perhaps the most important one for me, “What question should I be asking right now?”

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“A Rock Feels No Pain…” BUT

February 3, 2013

I woke early this morning with the final lines of old Simon & Garfunkel song “I Am A Rock” playing in my mind—the part they play slowly at the end: “…and a rock feels no pain, and an island never cries”—an appealing thought to many in our society, especially when the pain has been great, and the tears many.

Still, not feeling pain can be a bad thing, as lepers and paralytics know—it can lead to physical damage to body parts that fail to respond to stimuli, and can result in infections, sickness, even gangrene and death. (I know this personally from the death of my first wife, but that’s another story for another time.) And never crying can lead to psychological constipation and emotionally stunted growth, and who knows what else. Pain and trauma internalized can be tragic.

But even more tragic are the things that are missed. A rock never gives birth to a child, an idea, or a business. A rock never experiences the pleasures of life or the blessings that pain can sometimes bring. An island cannot cry tears of joy either. A rock never moves or grows or changes. An island doesn’t multiply, or grow families, or have dinner with anyone.

I don’t want to be a rock, eroding slowly, almost eternally, only becoming sand after eons. Not for me the eternal life of the Cumaean Sybil, who forgot to ask for eternal youth, shriveling up until eventually she was placed into a jar.

I want to live and breathe and laugh and cry. I want to feel pain enough to know what true joy is. And one day I want to die gloriously, even if it’s in my sleep. Meanwhile, I want to know people to the fullest—even those who fail me, intentionally or not.

And if I am not remembered in a hundred years, what I have done that is good will still live on in the lives of those who followed, and those whom they blessed and carried on.

I love stories of people who find encouragement in some of the bleakest circumstances, who take lemons and make lemonade—and then set up a stand and sell it, or even give it away. Aron Ralston, who spent 127 hours with his arm trapped by an 800-pound boulder, and who had to cut it off to escape. The rugby players who endured 72 days in the Andes and had to resort to cannibalism to survive. Corrie ten Boom’s sister Betsie, who, in the horrors of a Nazi concentration camp, was able to be thankful for fleas—simply because it meant it kept the guards out, and allowed them to pray, and sing, and fellowship, and to be safe for a moment. She died before getting out—but Corrie lived to tell. The stories like those in Ben Sherwood’s book The Survivors’ Club. Victor Frankl’s story in Man’s Search for Meaning. Bill Strickland’s Making the Impossible Possible. The list goes on and on. I love rambling through the archives in the caverns of my mind.

Life is good. All of life. Somehow. Some way. I know there is a lot of bad—but life IS good! And feeling—and feelings—help make it so. I’m not a rock—thankfully. To re-paint Descartes, “I feel, therefore I am.”

Consider it a sheer gift, friends, when tests and challenges come at you from all sides. Anyone who meets a testing challenge head-on and manages to stick it out is mighty fortunate. For such persons loyally in love with God, the reward is life and more life.

–James 1:2,12 in THE MESSAGE [Peterson]