THE MEANING OF LIFE
THE RT. REV. CHIP MARBLE
assisting bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of North Carolina
“The meaning of life is giving and sharing. The meaning of life is knowing that you are loved and accepted, and sharing that with other people in joy and thanksgiving.
“The only other thing I would say about the meaning of life is it’s living in to the full potential that God has given you.”
“I used to think I knew what life meant: Follow your dreams, find your happiness, contemplation… all those zen-like things that lead to transcendentalism in America. Now I’m in my thirties worrying about a mortgage payment, the next job and whether to shop at Aldi’s or splurge this week at Harris Teeter. Through it all, love, friends and family have helped me maintain my sanity (for their sakes). And remember to live, not just survive.”
Greensboro mayor pro tem
“I think the meaning of life is to leave this earth a little better than when you came in. I want to have a positive impact and know that I’ve made a difference.”
membership chair, NC Senior Dems
“My meaning of life is health and strength, being able to be my own person in reference to not having someone to do things for me. Being strong in my personal life and being helpful to others.
“You know, I feel like the only thing that we can control is how we spend our time. I just feel like as long as I have health and strength, then I can provide resources to others. That’s what I enjoy doing. That’s a big part of life.
“You asked me what life means to me. I thought about having a family that cares.
Edwards registered to vote on Oct. 17, 1960. “I had faith in my country. It made me proud to know that my vote would count. That was a special time in my life.
“I felt like I was in control of freedom of speech. I wanted to have a part in getting the right people in [to office]. You know, that doesn’t happen all the time. My father was a political person, and I think I inherited a lot of my political thoughts and processes from him. I enjoy voting. I’ve registered a lot of voters. I’ve campaigned for candidates. I was highly involved in Obama’s campaign. It’s very meaningful to me.”
SUSAN SPEAKS FRYE
Forsyth County Clerk of Superior Court:
“God has a plan for each one of us and no matter what, his plan always prevails. My family is the most important thing in my life, my children and my grandchildren. I have a good life because I do believe in Jesus Christ. He is my Savior and that’s who I go to for support and for guidance.”
health and fitness guru
“Creating something bigger than yourself and leaving a positive, meaningful something of yourself in the world, whether it be a book read by many, a child you produce, a way in which you treat others that makes them feel good about themselves or a gift you are able to give another in the form of a lesson, love, appreciation or respect.”
“The ultimate meaning of life has to do with your interaction with others, not personal possession or attainment. Be positive, appreciative, loving and accepting of others.”
“I think my take on that has changed a little bit. I went on a mission trip to South Africa this past summer. We took high school students. We went to this place called Nelspruit about four hours east of Johannesburg. We saw poverty where people don’t have water, where people don’t have education or medical attention. We were putting in a garden to feed orphans and widows. We worked with a group called Hands at Work Africa and we worked with Siathuthuka, which is 14 to 15 women who are loosely connected that check on child-run households or a blind widow that can’t walk.
“Hands at Work will get grants and funding, and allows different groups to work on projects. We arranged to pay for a fence, and we planted a garden, alongside the people there. We got orphans de-wormed.
“For me, this was a life-changing event. I have never seen poverty like that. There are examples where people don’t have food here, but everybody has access to water.
“When I start thinking about the meaning of life, the key part of it has to do with being loved and loving other people. That has to do with family and friends and charities. We have this need to love and be loved, whether it’s family or strangers.
“Being happy and helping other people be happy is part of it. You might have a friend whose depressing to be around. That’s okay for a time, but you also need to be around happiness. It’s not just love. That’s too narrow. Maybe it’s love-slash-happiness. We have this ability to make people smile.
“Part of it was to provide the basic necessities. We also had that party for the orphans. We made them smile.
“For work, it’s about creating and innovating. Creating and innovating and leaving a mark on the world. Leaving a mark on the world could be having a child. It could be starting a charity. Or it could be leaving a monument. Since we’re mortal, we have a desire to leave something behind.
“When I think about what makes me excited in the morning, it’s creating something. Building a building that someone will appreciate a hundred years from now. Planting a garden that will serve the community for 20 years. Reach also comes into it. If I build a playroom at my house, how many people are going to be able to enjoy it?”
I believe the meaning of life is mostly about personal and spiritual growth. It’s about following your intuition and becoming a better version of yourself. And, ironically, I think the trick to doing this is not necessarily by figuring it out in your head or by philosophizing about its meaning. I actually believe it’s more straightforward than that.
I think we all discover our own meaning as we follow the paths that make us feel most alive and engaged with the world.
For example, I love to read, write and run 5k and 10k races. I love to travel and explore and take photographs, and I love to talk with friends about personal and professional dilemmas. I love analyzing things, digging deep, swimming down into the cold uncomfortable water, searching for some lost metaphorical treasure. I like asking the big questions. And when I do all of these things well, I could care less about the meaning of life… mostly because I’ve become absorbed in something I’m good at.
For me, a meaningless life is an unfulfilling wasted life of doing what other people want me to do. And a meaningful life is challenging life in which I’m able to use my talents to become the person I want to become.
A lot of people believe that the most important things in life are Love and Giving and Sharing, and those are wonderful things. But in my mind, the most wonderful thing is the self-love and self-development that precedes those things. In fact, I think that sometimes the way we help each other the most is by simply being a good example for the people around us. After all, isn’t a bright fire the warmest? Does not the healthy tree with the most leaves provide the most shade?
We all need mentors from time to time. We need to be around people who inspire us, people who influence us without our even knowing. To me, they are the most loving and generous of all. One of my favorite writers is Henry David Thoreau, and I’ll conclude with a thought of his: “There is no value in life except what you choose to place upon it and not happiness in any place except what you bring to it yourself.”
To read more of Brian Crean’s work, visit www.stillbook.org.
“Life is a five letter word, ‘WATER.’ Without clean water and clean air, our lives have very little meaning. We must provide these basic fundamental human rights in addition to having access to opportunity to ensure true prosperity for future generations. Everything else is secondary. True happiness, enjoyment with our friends and family, having passion doing the things we love, fulfillment from our own personal development or from helping others are all virtually impossible to achieve if we do not pass on a legacy of a healthy environment and a greater chance for opportunity to the next generation.”
guitarist, the Brand New Life; barber
Ben Rayle plays lead guitar in the Greensboro-based outfit the Brand New Life. He also cuts hair, free of charge. Ben approaches cutting hair in the same manner he plays guitar: with proper equipment. I got a cut from him this weekend, though during the hour I was in the seat he evaded any and all of my questions about the meaning of life.
In fact, the closest he came during the entire cut was to say, “The sun is going to expand and we are all going to die.”
Ben says his approach to cutting hair is to be “very careful, but not without spontaneity.” Which can also be equated to his technique on guitar. On stage Ben uses a custom Terry McInturf-built electric; its previous owner purchased it as a collectible and never played it. Ben spent a year paying lay-away installments at Don’s music on JJ Street eight years ago when he was still in high school. He had a few payments left when he went to play it in the store one day with his grandmother, who noted the similarity in Ben’s grip on the guitar to his grandfather’s on banjo and as a gift made the final payment to bring the guitar off the rack and into his hands.
“Some people know exactly where they want to be in 10 years but I have no idea,” said Rayle. He does know what he’s doing with a pair of clippers though. He uses a 1.25inch No. 10 guard. “My barber — who I’d gone to since my first haircut — went over my hair with this guard and was about to use his scissors, but I told him it was already exactly how I wanted it,” Ben told me as clumps of my grey-tinged brown hair fell to the floor. He asked his barber about guard length and tracked one down that he uses on himself and a few other friends who are too cheap or broke to pay for a haircut. The result is a close — but still not military-style — cut that is a compromise between a buzz and a clipper cut. Ben’s the first to admit that his haircuts aren’t perfect, but for the price, they are close enough for me… but he did miss a spot that I had to take care of with my scissors.
Associate pastor, Christ Community Church, Greensboro
“[The meaning of life is] to glorify and enjoy God in this life and the life in heaven.”
“What shaped my view of life the best would be a New Testament professor Robert Cara at Reformed Theological Seminary who spoke on Paul’s letters and his discussion shaped how I view life marriage and work. Also, the New Testament Chief Catechism.”
“What is the meaning of life? To me, life means we are given a chance to experience living. Some lives are terribly short, some are long, some end with dignity while others end in horror and pain. Nobody seems to know why some people are given a less than desirable life. Nobody knows why so many victims’ prayers and pleas for mercy have gone unanswered.
“The meaning of life is a really hard question to answer. I am not sure if I even believe that we stop living when we die. Does life end or not? Are there actually souls of sinners being tortured in hell? Are there good people in heaven chilling out in the perfect world? I don’t know and guess what? Nobody else does either.
“I have heard so many people tell me that ‘everything happens for a reason.’ When people have said that to me, it always carried a religious or spiritual undertone. Some believe that there is a human-like figure ruling earth from the heavens above making sure that he/she is involved in everything that happens on earth. We hear it all the time. Some big-shot athlete is always on TV thanking God for helping them win the game. People talk about how things happened because they prayed about it. People pray before they eat and ask God to bless the food.
“I am not so confident that God has that kind of time. Even if he/she did have the time, I really think that the Almighty probably would find something else to do besides make sure the Dallas Cowboys win or that little Jimmy’s green peas are blessed to maximize the protein intake. It just gets a little far fetched when I think about it. Who are God’s parents anyway? Does he/she have a creator? At press time, God was unavailable for comment. Several prayers requesting answers to my questions have been unreturned by God’s office.
“I know we are here and life exists and I have no idea how or why. I would define the meaning of life as someone being born. They could be loved, hated, deformed, perfect, stupid, brilliant, rich or poor. Their lives could be great and long and end perfectly in the way they wanted, in a mansion surrounded by family and grandchildren and loved ones. Their lives could be super short and painful. Nobody really knows why either. I don’t even know if life ends when we die because I have never talked to someone after they die. Trust me, I have tried. All I know is sometimes life is good and sometimes life is bad. Sometimes life is wasted and sometimes champions rise from the worst of conditions. The meaning of life means that a certain amount of heartbeats and breaths have been granted. When I say granted please don’t think I am claiming to know how heartbeats and breaths are given or who grants them.
“I think the meaning of life is precious heartbeats and breaths, and one might wanna be careful with how they are used. Never know when you are going to run out of them. God could be busy making sure Brigham Young University covers the point spread against University of Texas at El Paso this weekend, and miss your ‘please God, don’t let me die today’ prayer.”
Britt Harper “Sn’zz” Uzzell
“I might suggest the meaning of life is to never let someone tell you what the meaning of life is. We’re all different creatures and one person’s path to nirvana could be another’s destruction.”
“Having a viable talent is lovely, but it’s not going to deliver happiness to your door. Doesn’t everyone have a talent of some sort? Maybe the umbrella of ‘talent’ should include more than just artistic abilities. Patience, tenacity and responsibility are all attributes that seem as vital to the ‘meaning of life’ as your ability to keep time or sing a melody.”
Last year, Sn’zz was diagnosed with a rare form of non-Hodgkins lymphoma called Waldenstr’m Macroglobulinemia. Around the same time, hid good friend Tim LaFollette was diagnosed with Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis or Lou Gehrig’s Disease. While Sn’zz’s cancer is in remission, Tim’s condition has deteriorated rapidly. Tim has asked Sn’zz and longtime friend Catie Braly to finish a song he started before his illness. Recently, Tim sent Sn’zz an e-mail underscoring the greater significance behind finishing the record.
“Regardless, working on finishing this album is what is lifting me out of the worst depressions I’ve ever had,” LaFollette wrote. “I need this record to continue, but it can’t without this song.”
“So in relation to Tim, can you imagine how amazing it is to be able to reach inside his motionless body and bring him some semblance of joy?” Sn’zz says. “I know how important this song is to him. I never feel more connected or at peace as when I’m in the process of uplifting whomever I’m with.
“It’s the same when I’m recording anyone,” Snuzz continues. “My goal is to lift their spirit as well as hit the ‘record’ button. Your mood is totally reflected in the performance, so I want to provide an environment that’s conducive to channeling a positive vibe.”
Server, Jan’s House, Greensboro
Diane has waited tables at Jan’s House in Greensboro for 14 years. Diane is also a mother of three and a recent breast cancer survivor.
“I go back to my Southern upbringing and Christian roots that emphasize glorifying God and… communicating effectively with people and paying it forward. As a mom and a caregiver I wanted to give and give more. Raising children changed my perspective, waiting tables changed my perspective and confronting death changed my perspective. I sober up drunk people for a living, so I’ve learned about patience and that I can’t control other peoples actions.”
Zen monk, author
“Most people are looking for the meaning of life outside of life. They’re trying to lay meaning on top of life. I suppose if you want the official Zen party line: ‘The meaning of life is life.’ There is not a meaning of life outside life. When people are thinking about the question, they want to give life a definition or put it in a box so they can analyze it in terms of what’s inside the box. It’s like scooping out a bucket of ocean water to understand the ocean. You can see how absurd that is.
“Life can’t be stuck into categories. It’s a natural human tendency to want to put things into categories. That’s what we’ve been taught to do — try to categorize things.”
“The meaning of a flower isn’t outside the flower.
Meaning is a cognitive thing — it occurs in your brain.”
“The meaning is just one of the aspects of life.” “The meaning of life when you’re 15 is not the same meaning of life when you’re 96.”
“Someone else’s meaning of life will never work for you even if it works for them — the meaning of life is always provisional for whoever is saying it.”
“I think it’s valuable to search for meaning. You need to be able to relax a little bit and realize you’re not going to find the meaning — the search itself is valuable. It’s not that the value of your search is going to be found at the end of your search. Like you find the meaning and you put that away — the search itself is valuable even understanding you’re not going to find it.”
“The meaning is what you ascribe to it. Any meaning you ascribe to life, if it works, if it’s practical, is probably okay.”
“If you can come to terms with the fact that you’re not going to find the answer, things get a lot easier and there is no specific ANSWER in capital letters for you to find.”
Mayor of Winston-Salem
“I am very grateful for the progress this community has made to re-invent itself. We must continue to stay focused on creating jobs for our citizens. Without a job, their quality of life is greatly diminished. The true meaning of life is family, friends and a rewarding job or civic engagement. “