Dr. Thomas Lane Butts: The Meaning of Life, Part 2

Last week I set out to write an introduction to a story by Robert Fulghum. Suddenly I realized that the introduction had become a column before I got to the story. Let me try again.

The search for the meaning of life is both elusive and ephemeral. It is the most sought- after element in life. Everybody is looking for it, even those who do not know they are looking for it. It is a universal human quest. And, in the course of every life, we go down so many wrong roads and dead-end streets. The meaning of life is not the same for everybody, and it is not the same for any one person all the time. In our kaleidoscopic world there is not a specific universal road map that will lead us all to the same goal. The meaning of life is not a destination on your GPS. It is not available as a app for your smart phone.

Do not make the mistake of borrowing someone else's prescription and assuming that the medicine that made them well will cure your ills. It may not only not help you, it could kill you. You are not someone else. People who have found their meaning of life should not become models, nor should we weigh them down with our expectations or with false images of them. But those enlightened few serve well as sources of inspiration in our individualized search.

Let me tell you two stories about how two very different people found the meaning of life in very different ways.

In his book, "It Was On Fire When I Lay Down On It", Robert Fulghum tells a story about the ending day of a two-week seminar on Greek culture. The leader was Dr. Alexander Papaderos, Ph.D, teacher, statesman, native of Athens, and a son of the soil. The seminar was over and Dr. Papaderos asked the ritual question, "Are there any questions?". There was silence. "No questions?" Papaderos swept the room with his eyes. Fulghum then asked, "Dr. Papaderos, what is the meaning of life?" Everybody laughed and the people got up to go. Papaderos held up a hand to still the room, looked at Fulghum, asking with his eyes if he was serious, and saw from Fulghum's eyes that he was.

"I will answer your question," he said. He took his wallet from his back pocket and fished out of it a very small round mirror about the size of a quarter. And what he said went something like this:

"When I was a small child during the war, we were very poor, and we lived in a remote village. One day, on the road, I found the broken pieces of a mirror. A German motorcycle had been wrecked in that place. I tried to find all the pieces and put them together; it was not possible, so I kept the largest piece. This one. By scratching it on stone I made it round. I began to play with it as a toy and became fascinated by the fact that I could reflect light into dark places where the sun would never shine.

"I kept the little mirror, and as I went about growing up, I would take it out at idle moments and continue the challenge of the game. As I became a man, I grew to understand that this was not just a child's game, but a metaphor of what I could do with my life. I came to understand that I am not the light nor the source of the light. But light - truth, understanding, knowledge - is there, and it will shine in dark places if I reflect it.

"I am a fragment of a mirror whose whole design and shape I do not know. Nevertheless, with what I have I can reflect light into the dark places of this world - into the black places in human hearts - and change some things in some people. Perhaps others may see and do likewise. This is what I am about. This is the meaning of my life."

Then Papaderos took his small mirror, holding it carefully, caught the bright rays of the daylight streaming through the window, and reflected them on to Fulghum's face, and onto his hands folded on the desk. The little mirror explained the meaning of Dr. Papaderos' life with wordless eloquence.

This is the next story. Many years ago Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe wrote the famous drama, "Faust". It is the story of a man who sold his soul to the devil in search of an experience in life that would be so meaningful that he would say: "Let this moment linger".

Faust experienced everything!! He read all the books, spoke all the languages, and tasted all the pleasures. The devil gave him everything: wealth, power, sex, knowledge; but Faust was not happy. He could still feel an unsatisfied hunger and emptiness. At the end of the play Faust has become an old man. He has despaired with the empty pursuits of happiness which had been given him

In his old age he sets out to build dikes to reclaim land from the sea for people to live and work on. Having forgotten about his own happiness and peace, he concerns himself with the happiness and peace of others - people he did not even know. Then, all of a sudden it slipped up on him from the backside - that feeling of all feelings that comes when you find out what you are here for, and Faust whispered: "Let this moment linger."

Does this give you some idea about finding the meaning of life? There is more, but you will have to find it for yourself.