Posts Tagged ‘man’ssearchformeaning’

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?”

Genius, Unencouraged, Withers

May 8, 2012

Too often, I fear, we fail to recognize the small stirrings of genius in each other.

I was made keenly aware of this this past week in a small exchange of conversation between my wife and myself.

And sometimes it is because we are so used to the particular gifting we have but have gotten used to.

Here’s how it played out. While riding somewhere, I said something that for me was within my usual way of thinking of things, some observation about what was going on that, for me, encapsulated an idea, painted the bigger picture in what was going on. To give you an example, our son and daughter-in-law have been teaching their 9-month-old son to clap his hands when he accomplishes some major (for him) feat of growth—rolling over, grabbing something, making a sound that is recognizable to us, etc. I thought that was an admirable and praiseworthy way of helping him grow, but the way I said it was, “That’s neat! They’re teaching him to celebrate little things!” It was, for me, just a simple statement, nothing profound, but it moved my wife. “I would never have thought of it that way,” she said in amazement.

And then that old self-denigrating, self-deprecating little demon that leads to envy (we all deal with it) started hounding her. “I wish I could do that. You are so good at that, but I never think of things that way.”

I tried to head it off at the pass. “You are gifted in so many other ways, Sweetie,” I suggested—and she really is. And then I had a thought: “Why don’t we pray that you get that gift?” So we said a short prayer to that effect—nothing elaborate, just a simple request.

Twice later in that same day, she made observations that were on the same level of brilliance to me as what I had done earlier was for her. And I pointed it out to her, to her amazement, I think. And I’m sure she has done it more than either of us had been aware of in the past—we simply hadn’t noticed.

I do have a gifting with words, and I’ve been told that more than once, but it’s something I’m used to. I live with it, breathe it, glory in it, am tormented by it. It’s my atmosphere, my milieu, my life-breath. But I noticed that she has sparks that are just as brilliant, moments of insight, flashes of luminescence that surprise and fascinate me—but I seldom comment on them because it’s so commonplace for me. And the same genius in her, unnoticed and uncomplimented, withers and atrophies, wastes away, simply for lack of a little watering, a few well-placed kind words.

Far too many people live in a “home on the range, where seldom is heard an ENcouraging word”—not intentionally, but simply because we walk blindly—bludgeoningly, it turns out—through this life, not building up our fellow sojourners, and as a result allowing each other to wither in a dry desert of un-notice. We grow up that way, with no one feeding our deepest longings for significance, no one teaching us that we can, simply by our words, make a difference. We starve each other of part of our humanness, and kingdoms fall for want of a small nail. We don’t mean to—it just “happens.”

I think of two powerful images of this lack. The first image is from a scientific experiment (I can’t imagine doing this—it pains me to even think of it) in which they taped a patch over a new-born kitten’s eye (fortunately, only one eye) to see if it could learn to see, having known only darkness. It couldn’t—for the entire remainder of life. The other is a parable, a definition of heaven and hell based on how we treat each other: If we couldn’t bend our arms at the elbows, and had to try to eat, hell would be trying only to feed ourselves—heaven would be feeding each other.

I’m not sure we can undo all the patches we have been subjected to, whether deliberately or through circumstances. But we can try to learn to live in that parabolic heaven now. We can learn to celebrate little things.

We can help each other find our way on the path we all trod that Victor Frankl called “Man’s Search For Meaning.”

We can.

Notice. Become.

Aware. Alive.