on the corner “What’s it all about, Alfie?”
By Robert Docter, Editor-In-Chief
What is the meaning of life?
I don’t really spend much time wondering about the answer to that question. Do you? Do you sit and ponder the great philosophical issues of our existence? I do admit that once in a while thoughts about the meaning of life cross my mind. They concern the great existential questions of life: work, death, isolation, loneliness, choices, identity, freedom and responsibility, decisions, relationships with “others” and—most of all—meaning. I consider that last one a spiritual issue.
Even more important to me, however, is the question: What is the meaning of my life? I think that question is worth looking at on a regular basis—maybe not daily, but more than “once in a while.”
I think of it as an evaluation activity—my time to examine the nature of my actions on a given day. It always starts with thoughts about family. Do I need to repair anything in relation to my conduct with any member? Where was I unkind, self-centered, irritable? It’s a time for me to assess my judgmentalism, my critical self, my willingness—or lack thereof—to support the efforts of others and help those who need help. It’s my “Step 10 Inventory.”
However, much more essential, I believe, are my thoughts about the quality of my relationship with God. I’m talking about my belief system. Am I working to increase my faith, to challenge my doubts and questions, to keep God “in the act”? I believe all he wants from me is a connection and to recognize that I am required to be the responsible member to maintain that contact. He will not impose himself on me. If I want him to know that I know he exists, I must tell him. He hears my wrestling match with myself in “real time”—as it happens, and never butts in.
I suppose, therefore, that I equate the meaning of my life in relation to the manner I communicate myself to those around me.
Various words leap into my consciousness, all products of positive choices: love, family, Diane, our children, grandchildren and great-grandson, my brother, God, my commitments to an ethic, the corps, the Army, otherness, teaching and learning, writing, leading, friends. As I see that list written down for the first time, I sense the power my relationships have on my life and wonder what I’ve left out.
One thing pops into my head just now—it’s you. I think about you. MERRY CHRISTMAS!
So, what about Christmas? What does it mean? Is it simply a mass recited once a year to give significance to someone? To give that someone meaning? Today, it’s much more than a church service, more than green trees growing indoors with branches laden with sparkling lights and covering brightly wrapped packages. It’s more than happiness, more than joy, more than memories—and each within our culture must assign it their own meaning.
Many within our culture celebrate Christmas as a non-sectarian tradition—with all the artifacts, baubles and beads, trees, presents and Santa—and find joy in the celebration. Gifts are exchanged. Celebrants hug, possibly even kiss, and, for the most part, say kind words to each other. It’s a wonderful holiday, but that which makes it a holy day lies buried between sheets of paper, torn furiously by children from neatly wrapped packages with joyful excitement.
Nevertheless, it’s a great tradition filled with love.
Some of these people probably even go to church on their day of worship. Possibly for them, “church” is either a spiritual challenge, an insightful presentation on the Word or a social setting that provides various opportunities to feel part of a group, speak to friends and enjoy the fellowship. The pastor (officer) speaks to them relative to certain moral values, and they leave feeling very good, but also very hungry.
They either are or wish to be seen as “believers.” The dimensions of their faith are immeasurable.
For me, Christmas is a gift from God delivered by an ordinary young woman by lantern light in a Bethlehem stable following a bumpy, difficult, lengthy ride on a donkey while nine months pregnant. Her betrothed, for they were not yet married—facilitated delivery of the gift—a baby boy, identified on brilliantly lit hillsides by angel choirs to shepherds as the son of God.
Accepting that means I must believe that which preceded it was true, and that the gift was Messiah—the Christ—and reverence his carefully kept words accordingly.