Monday, January 24, 2011

The Meaning of Nina's Life

When I returned from Japan where I had spent a year as a visiting professor, my six year old spoke with a native fluency.  Nina was also bursting with all manner of questions about the world, which grew larger with each new discovery she made. “Why doesn’t this McDonald’s sell Ebisu (shrimp and fish) burgers and did you see that lady taking our order, she didn’t even bow? Do babies pop out of their Mommy’s belly buttons ? Is the sun as big as Walmart’s parking lot?”  But not once, had she ever asked: “What is the meaning of life?”

After having lived in Asia and Africa, I suspect the reason may be this.  What looks like a question mark ("?"), set at the end of that declaration of existential yearning, is really a “hook.”  Being a crude implement, children slip right through, but the marrow and bone of the adult is left dangling from it like ham on a meat hook.   

Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus, and other existentialist intellectuals are not to blame for this carnage. They didn’t create the notion that the universe was meaningless and life inherently pointless. They merely gave a label to the feelings of separation, loneliness and emptiness that life in a universe inhabited by disembodied minds, has spawned.

But what children at play know instinctively is that our bodies, not our minds, signal life's meaning to us. What we adults pose as an existential question is really just the howling sound our cries make as the meat hook digs deeper.       

Related Posts:  Commuting Between Universes
                         Letting Go of "Good and Evil"

                         In the Battle Between Science and Religion in the West
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