The Meaning of Life
We think it’´s fitting this time of year, as the days grow short and the shadows long, to look toward the light.
For our annual Meaning of Life issue we’´ve asked the Big Question to artists, business leaders, religious figures, children, politicians and other members of the community and placed their collected wisdom on these pages.
Some common themes emerge. Relationships. Service. Weathering change and reaching our potential. Small moments writ large upon the canvas of our lives.
The meaning of life, we’´ve learned, is a multifaceted thing, and finding it can be considered a calling. Or an art.
We admit we don’´t know what it’´s all about. But after putting tpgether this week’´s issue, the answer feels a little closer.
— Brian Clarey
Al Brilliant poet, publisher, proprietor of Glenwood Coffee & Books in Greensboro
• I don’t have a lot of wisdom to share, but I can say what works for me.
•I’m a religious person, so it’s easy for me. We have a certainty about our beliefs. Being agnostic, atheist, secular humanist is much harder.
• Service. If the meaning of life is one word, that’s what it is. It’s what makes me happy. It’s what makes me joyful. It’s what makes me feel good. It seems to be the correct thing to do.
• Sometimes you know what’s the correct thing to do, but it’s hard work.
• I really find it is more blessed to receive than it is to give. Think about it. When you receive you give someone else the opportunity to give. Everybody loves to give — nobody wants to receive. I think it hurts a little.
THE MEANING OF LIFE. The Rev. RandallSince we’re approaching Christmas, my particular notion on Christmas is the absolute embrace of humanity by God, unconditionally, eternally and Keeney Rector, St. Barnabas Episcopal Church • Since we’re approaching Christmas, my particular notion on Christmas is the completely, inviting us to realize that we are creatures of God, images of God. In this season, we’re called to recognize that — recognize the presence of God around us in all people. • I found God in other people. That’s where I experienced God — through my relationships with people, and in common struggles and common celebrations. • It’s all about relationships: Finding and building relationships with people who can introduce you to new hopes and new fears. For whatever reason, I feel compelled. That’s why I’m here at the [Beloved Community Center for a weekly dialogue on social justice concerns]. I could no more not be involved in that than I could not be involved in worship on Sunday. • On the burden of relationships: You can’t help but share their anxiety and pain and fear. If you’re really in relationship, what they’re anxious about and happy about will affect you. I regularly have to retreat and introvert a little bit.
Allen Broach businessman, board member, Broach theatre Co.
• It’s all a big joke. Somebody’s playing with us. •In reality, for me it is all about family and friends, the people you get to know in life. Nothing is better than that. That’s what gets me through every day, especially like today, when I’m having a crazy one. I look at the pictures of my sons and grandsons and think, “You know, I got it pretty good.”
• The relationships, that’s what it’s all about. And sometimes it’s about knowing when they end. There are times in relationships when it’s served its purpose for both of you, and it’s time to move on. It’s not that way with family — you’re stuck with them.
• I don’t think creativity is what it’s all about, but it definitely makes life more interesting. You can look at anything, from artwork to literature, plays, food, even undersea life — cre- ativity is everywhere. I feel sorry for people who don’t under- stand that, don’t see and feel the creativity in their lives.
I don’t think our creator made us out of necessity. The meaning of life is to leave an impression, to do something beautifully or magically or socially or environmentally drastic in a positive way and leave something for other people to follow…. My everyday functioning is influenced by that idea. I am pursuing music because I am passionate about it and because… that’s my avenue for leaving a lasting impression on the world. It just seems more helpful to be in the now and be considerate of where you came from and mindful who’s to come next.
Jeff Thigpen Guilford
County register of deeds •I tend to find meaning in life when I have the courage to let go of my own painful imperfections or the natural chaos of life, and accept that I’m beloved, meaning I’m loved completely and unconditionally by a force that is far greater than my own. A force that is not out there in that I have to achieve or work for it. Rather, it’s a life-giving spirit, here and now, guiding, comforting, challenging and troubling me to be a better person,fatherand friend,andmore committedto serveothers.
•It awakens my heart and passion when I see people losingtheirhomesorwithseemingly irreconcilabledifferencesbecause I feel like if we could just get beneath all those dif-ferences we might realize there is more that unites us thandividesus andwe couldtruly makeadifference.
Chip Roth Union representative (International Brotherhood of Teamsters, Teamsters Local 391)
• Hindus use a greeting, Namaste, and as it’s been described to me, it means, “I see the God in you.” I think that there is a flow of the spirit of God through each one of us. In my orientation in life, is to try and see that spirit of God in people that I’m meeting and around. Having that orientation has helped me remain positive.
• Mypurposeto my lifeis tolove. Thatwillshow in the com-mitment that I have to my wife and the support for her assheachievesremarkablethings,andto mykids. It’s justsorefreshing to be able to see the world through my babyboy’s eyes. A two year old is not cynical.• Myprofessionalpurposeinlife is toservemy member-ship in the Teamsters union. As a lobbyist for the Teamstersunionit meansthat I’msupportingthe educationalneedsfor our society, safer workplaces and working in coalitionswith other people to advocate for housing and healthneedsofour population.I ampartof doingGod’s workinhelping those who most need our help in society.
Frank Russell artist, proprietor Artmongerz in downtown Greensboro
• I’ve learned that there is a “God” thing that isn’t me. There’s some kind of latticework of coincidence that I don’t always see, but it’s there.
• Life never stops coming at you. It doesn’t stop, a river that keeps coming, and you get to a place where you think you’re okay and the next thing you know it’s a whole different thing.
• Creativity — that’s kind of everything for me. The creativeprocess is notsomethingyouplug in, turnon, turnoff.It’ssomething that you are.• I manage 10artistsandit’s likeherding kittens.• It sounds hokey, but I’m going to leave the world a weird-er place than the way I found it.
Stanley Leigh Rodenbough II
• The mystery of life is great. Wecan’tforetellthe future,but we can live with hope.• When we have many blessingsinlife like I have,theverge of death which is nottoo far away for any of us, it makes us wonder, “What have I gotten good that I can pass on?” For me it’s this pictorial art — it could be music or poetry— anything to be preserved.
• The passage of knowledge from one generation to the next is very essential. We cannot gauge our future without studying our past. It’s like a bow and arrow, you draw the arrow back on the bow in order for it to be released and go forward.
• Change is the stamp of our time — change is coming fast. New ideas, new approaches are a great impetus to invention. As I create each new painting, I’m experimenting and we’re all experimenting as we go through life — we are fleshing out our concept and our understanding of things and they grow in new ways and wonderful ways.”
• I’ve thought aboutit often.Wejustgo around everyday takingbeingalive forgranted,butwhen something happens that puts your life at risk, you think about it in a different way. Idon’tknowexactlywhat that wayis. My recentexperience iswhenI hada bleedingulcer for a couple days I knew I was dying but I didn’t know why. I was bleeding internally. When the doctor got the lab tests back and they figured out I was bleeding to death they said they didn’t know why I was alive.
And rushed me to the hospital. I was lying in the hospital for about two hours. I prayed. I’m not very religious. I’m kind of generically religious. I prayed to God or the cosmic universe. I didn’t pray to live. I prayed for whatever was supposed to happen to happen. While I was doing that I could feel all the pain gurgling down, like a Mr. Plumber kind of thing, kind of moving from my side to my center and kind of going down to my stomach. And it gurgled; it was just like when a drain cleans. After that, I figured out I was alive for a reason, but I didn’t know what reason. Granted, when I was praying the doctors were pumping blood and fluids into me. • I feel very presumptuous as a person saying that I know exactly who and what God is. I think it’s too big for us. I feel like that’s beyond our knowing while we’re alive. I feel like I’m going to a better place. I don’t doubt that. • When I was younger I had MS. I had a lot of pain and suffering. I thought it made me a stronger. They didn’t know what it was. I didn’t know until 15 years later. I got tired of going to the doctors and then one time when I was real sick and I went to an ear specialist. He said, ‘You have to get this checked out.’ Once the diagnostic tests came back, I wasn’t upset because I knew I had something. I knew it wasn’t a brain tumor, because I was still alive. • Now that I’m older and I’m in pain, I’m just irritated. I don’t think there’s a reason for it. God can’t do everything all the time. He or she did all these wonderful things. It’s sort of like your car: It just breaks down. But then also you read about when somebody’s really sick and a whole bunch of people pray for them and they get better. I think that’s the energy from the people, the positive energy.
owner, Toshi’s CafÃ© in Greensboro
My meaning of life is working hard everydayfor whatI wantto be — awarmperson, a kind person. I also try to figurewhat God gave me as a gift. I believe Imightbe abletofind out onedaywithworking hard every day.
Sometimes I get angry and sometimes I getsad. I don’tknowanythingabout it. ButI don’tknow about this. This is crazy business.
president of Greensboro’s Joseph M. Bryan Foundation
The meaning of life is to do somethingeverydayto maketheplace whereyou livebetter for more people than just yourself. Iget up everyday and try to do somethingworthwhile,and notjustfor myself.I feelworthwhile and that’s important.
5-year-old the only thing I know. Is there a reason?
Do wehaveto? That’s a hardquestion.Nobody’s answer is right and nobody’sansweris wrong.We’re alljustthe same.I don’t know. I don’t know. Um, I think the answer is we were born out of our stomachs cause our parents wished for us. That’sWell, maybe like somebody made up life and then they like made our parents and then our parents were born and they had us born and it keeps happening. Nobodyknowsthe correctanswer.”
artist, creative director of Hand-to-Hand Market in Greensboro
• ThebiggestepiphanyI’ve had in my life isthat what it all boils down to is relationships.
Anything that you do with art or whatever your craft is, it’s really just a tool in your toolset for how you live your life. What really motivates me is trying to cultivate an event or experience that is about relationships.
• Our relationships are what define how we survive in the world and how we see ourselves being of value. Relationships are a really great mirror to see where you stand and who you are in the world.
• Christmas time can be the best time of year or the worst time of year because of your relationship with your family or if you’ve lost someone like I lost my mother six years ago. My life has really changed because of the loss of that one relationship.
• The meaning also boils down to not living in fear. To have goals, and dreams and visions, you have to be fearless… to affect change you want to see in the world. If you live in fear you won’t be able to act out in compassion or love.
• Life is about how you care for yourself. Your quality of life will depend on how well you care for yourself.
Homecare operator, former city council member
• To be able to give back and to fill your days fulfilling other peoples lives.
• About losing an election and a seat on city council: It’s certainly adds to [your understanding of the meaning of life]. It was certainly an enriching experience. I was certainly honored to be elected.
• Even the most recent campaign, to look for the good in every situation. Other people will have hopefully the same rewarding experience that I had for two years. There are so many ways that you can help fulfill that life purpose and mission, whether it be through being a public servant, a dad, a friend.
Sam “the Dot Man” McMillan folk artist
It’s good. Everything makes me happy, but there’s some bad stuff I don’t like. I believe if I quit [making art], I would die. If I didn’t work, I would get sick. I never took a pill; I never get sick. I just keep going.