Reasons

Whenever something happened in her life, a woman I once worked with would declare “Everything happens for a reason.” To her, this was destiny. So, when her department was closed and she had to transfer to a new department, she reasoned that this happened because she was destined to do something special in her new environment. When she was involved in a minor auto accident, she saw this as a sign that she should postpone a planned upcoming trip. All life events that affected her became part of her existence.

She was not the first person I knew who saw life’s events as being part of some preordained purpose in her life, but that view I have always found troubling. That perspective may give one a sense of having an ordered life, but, to me, this is a manifestation of our inbred human assumption that there must be a reason for everything, and also a rationalization to avoid facing life directly.

Trust me, there are no reasons for everything we encounter in life. Life happens. Things happen with no intent. That tree that fell on your car? It didn’t fall to prevent you from taking that vacation trip. It just happened. We regularly hear or see the comment, “Everything happens for a reason,” and we are prone to accept it because it sounds reasonable. Yes, reasonable, and that is why we accept it, instead of seeing it as the meaningless phrase that it is.

Looking back, I see this embedded belief we humans have (that there is a reason for everything) may be systemic within our self-awareness, a belief that there is a reason for our existence as the human race. More to the point, we believe that there is a reason for each of us to exist on this earth. To me, there appears to be a touch of predestination also in this belief. Did we inherit this belief of reason from Calvinism? A bit of a stretch, yes, but that 16th-century religious framework is still a major part of the Christian religion, whether we accept it or not.

This inherent belief structure further manifests itself in our unquenchable thirst to find the meaning and purpose of the universe, as we do acknowledge that the universe precedes us. We regularly ask scientists either to explain the origin of the universe or to explain its purpose, neither of which are important to scientists, whose primary interest is in figuring out how it works and how it affects us. Searching for its origin provides no benefit or knowledge.

What we have are what you might call hard facts, facts that have no reason and may never be explained. The universe is immense, far exceeding the imagination of any of us, and our meager human race on this planet has no more relevance in the broader picture than that ant you accidentally stepped on. Those are hard facts. Yes, despite the universe’s immenseness, it has no purpose. If the universe has no purpose, then those within it (us) have no purpose, are here only briefly, and, in universe time, will quickly disappear. Humanity, as a species, serves no purpose in the universe and, conversely, is the primary cause of the earth’s environmental sufferings. Purpose? None. Compared to the universe’s existence of almost 14 billion years, our existence of fewer than 100,000 years is but a small blip in history.

So, knowing that, there can be no way that there is a reason or purpose for our existence, whether individually or collectively. If there is to be a reason for us, we must take ownership and define it. To think otherwise is pure fantasy. This is not a condemnation of life or an intent to demean the life we have. No, this is the good news: our life is ours to define, ours to own, ours to celebrate. All we need is the courage to take control of our life, not leaving it to others or to our belief that there is some preexisting reason we must follow.

We, ourselves, create the foundation for our lives, and how we react to life’s events shapes us even more—but those events do not happen for a reason; they just happen. If there is a reason for our lives, it is because of what we do. That’s it. It’s that simple. Trying to bring the universe, our heritage, or religion into the equation on the meaning of life is just adding unnecessary weight to the issue. Life is on our shoulders. It’s a weight we can manage. We can do this.

The Joy of Faces

It is now one year into the COVID-19 pandemic. One year since I’ve enjoyed seeing faces of people in my world. One year since I was able to share simple, yet meaningful, gestures with friends and strangers that let me acknowledge their presence in my life. You know what I mean: those little gestures of smiles, frowns, and more that let people send unspoken messages and also accent the spoken ones. Our faces are remarkably talented at communicating many emotions and we are starved in our masks from those interactions.

Just the other day, while in the grocery store, I accidentally bumped my cart into another shopper. So nice it would have been for him to see my smile when I apologized. Small? Yes. Meaningless? Anything but. Our world is crowded and we are interacting with others regularly, whether desired or not. The message sent by our facial gestures is the balm that eases these interactions.

If you follow the news, you’ve heard or read of the many senseless acts of violence during this year and it is my belief that much of it happens because we are living in a world of masked, faceless, people. Such a world is one of zombies and monsters, where all we see are eyes without emotions, bodies without faces—the total absence of what we sense as people.

Even more, new persons in our lives are unknown to us. Last month, I was treated for a medical issue by a doctor new to me. She explored parts of my body, yet did so from behind a mask. When I see her at my next appointment, I will not recognize her because I’ve NEVER SEEN HER. What should normally be a low-stress interaction becomes one of interacting with a zombie.

I will survive this pandemic. Life will go on. The day will come when all I write here today will be irrelevant and just a memory—but I remain anxious for that day when we can all rejoin the world, and zombies will only be in the movies.

On Being Ageless

While in a store recently, I noticed an elderly gentleman working with his smartphone. I felt empathy for him, knowing that his advanced age likely kept him from understanding how to do whatever it was that he was attempting. Technology can be challenging for the older generation; at least, that’s what I’ve read. However, as I moved nearer to him, I was struck with a startling discovery: he was no older than I. In fact, he may well have been younger.

This was not the first time I’ve had this awakening, this discovery that I am not as young as I thought I was. This happens because when I view the world, the one thing I never see is myself. Oh, of course, I see myself in a mirror, but a mirror never shows interaction with others; it just shows me. Yet, what defines all of us is that time we are with others and sharing the experience of life. Even the act of looking into a mirror corrupts what we see because our viewing is generally to assess appearance: attire, neatness, cleanliness, and the like. What we do not see in the mirror is our age, our age as it compares to others.

This disparity in how we view ourselves, compared to how others see us, relates to the fact that our body ages while our brain does not. As a young man, these two views were sufficiently alike to be ignored, but with advancing age the differences become striking. As I view myself, I am still roughly somewhere between 25 and 35 years old, with some changes in my philosophy, political views, and overall focus. And I’m much smarter today by far than I was during those early years.

The benefit I see is an ageless life to be. Twenty-five is a wonderful age and I’ve enjoyed that position for the past fifty-five years and will continue to do so until my end. We do not grow old, not I nor you. Our bodies age and we do ourselves a disservice by equating the state of our body with the state of our mind. Yet, even in writing this, I know that I still view older citizens as being much older than my twenty-five-year-old virtual self. It is only when I speak to an older citizen that I discover the twenty-five-year-old who resides within. A discovery of pearls.

I see my life as Oliver Wendell Holmes’ lovely poem, The One-Hoss Shay, the story of a shay that lasted 100 years and collapsed all at once. And that will be my end: At some point, my body will finally break and, at that moment, my twenty-five-year-old brain will suddenly cease. I will not break down, I will not age, I will not grow old. I will cease.