What gives life meaning

“He has put a knife on the things that held us together and we have fallen apart.”

I remember reading Things Fall Apart in high school for a class. At the time, I couldn’t be less interested in the book. But now, it is one of my favorite books I’ve ever read and I’ve re-read my copy of it so many times, some of the pages have been torn out only to be placed gently back into place by me. Things Fall Apart is the story of Okonkwo, who is a respected leader of a Nigerian clan. Through a series of unfortunate events (spoilers), Okonkwo ends up losing his leadership, his family and his dignity. In the end, he kills himself through hanging. Although the story is really about a clash between civilization and tradition, I see a sadder story in the book. At the end of the book, the commissioner states that the story of Okonkow will make for “an interesting paragraph or two..” in his book. Oknokwo’s life will make for an interesting paragraph. Not an amazing paragraph; not a profound one. Not a novel; not a essay. A paragraph. Something that will catch one’s attention for a few minutes while reading only for them to never really dwell on Oknokwo’s story again.

One of the saddest aspects of life is that life is temporary and fleeting. One’s life is but a blip on the radar of the world’s history. Things fall apart suddenly and quickly, like a sharp knife. Just like that, it’s over. Even the greatest, most influential person in history can expect to only be in history books; maybe have a day named after them. What we do in our lives is important, but only to the extent that we believe that what we have accomplished, has been good.

The age old question: What gives our lives meaning? Think of it in terms of this situation: A man spends his whole life getting rich through various, sometimes sketchy ways. He makes a few friends and quite a few enemies along the way. His wife stays with him for his money, as the ‘love’ has long since been lost. His friends stay with him for the good times at the club, but don’t bother calling him during the week to see how he’s doing. The man grows ill and has only a few days to live and begins to reflect back on his life. His goal was to become rich…and he’s surely done that. But, he feels unfulfilled. His life has been lived without meaning. When he dies, the papers will be filled with condolences for the man that had once lived, had once donated money to charities, had once been the president of the country club, had once….(and the facts continued). The facts are not what matter, it’s the feelings that will be everlasting.

Did he leave his wife with the knowledge that he loved her? Did he leave his children with the feeling that they are kind, beautiful and special and will grow up to be good people? It is these feelings of love, compassion and devotion that make a life meaningful. If you go through your whole life never feeling like you’re good enough, that you’re a failure, that you can’t do anything right…it won’t matter. If you made one person happy, if you made one person feel loved: that is what matters. Because the facts of your life might make for an interesting paragraph, but the love that you give to other people will make a beautiful story.

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