It is a fool’s life, as they will find out when they get to the end of it, if not before.
-Henry David Thoreau, Economy
I’ve been pretty busy lately. Working, playing, sitting outside even when it’s 95 degrees because I know winter will come soon and I’ll regret every summer second spent indoors. I’ve also been devoting quite a bit of my time to a little lighthearted endeavor called pondering the meaning of life.
As if this weren’t a daunting enough undertaking, it’s compounded by the fact that my conclusion seems to be ‘there isn’t one.’ A meaning, that is. Not to be a downer, but it all seems pretty ungovernedly pointless. You live, you die, people suffer, they die.
Overwhelmed by the implications of these thoughts, I decided to turn to a trusted friend for input: Henry David Thoreau. An Urchin through and through, having lived a fully examined life of artistic, philosophical, and naturalistic pursuits, I knew Thoreau would have some helpful insights.
Oh, and he did all right. Unfortunately, and granted this is just my own interpretation of his musings, they seemed to corroborate my own. Humans throughout history have not really changed, at a basic level. As Thoreau points out, ‘the improvements of ages have had but little influence on the essential laws of man’s existence; as our skeletons, probably, are not to be distinguished from those of our ancestors.’
Essentially, we’re not making any real progress in terms of discovering a purpose for this big production called life. So, with the knowledge that we will probably never discover a purpose or meaning, how should one conduct their life? Unabashed hedonism? ‘Voluntary poverty’ for the sake of impartial observation?
Some may see Thoreau’s life choices, namely, living for two years, two months, and two days at Walden Pond and devoting himself completely to a truth-seeking mission, as the answer. But for me, Thoreau’s individualistic profession to ‘let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away’ says it all.
There might not be a universal truth about the meaning of life, or we just might not be able to know or understand it. But what there is is personal truth, and that we can both know and understand.
So, what better way to live than according to your own personal truths? In this way, we can feel confident in our life path and decisions without dissecting them in relation to those of others. What is right for them may not be right for us, and vice versa. In addition, who are we to judge the lives and decisions of others, for who but them knows the personal truths from which they are operating?
We’re all just feeling around in the dark here, looking for the light switch. But maybe we should just let our eyes adjust to the dark and see what’s in our reality, because chances are we’re not going to find the light switch anytime soon.