life's meaning


"Daddy, what's the meaning of life?"

By Will Baker


I had an interesting discussion recently with my five-year-old daughter. We were sitting outside in the autumn sunshine and she looked me dead in the eye and asked, "Daddy what is the meaning of life?" A feeling of pride and amazement swept over me as I snatched her up in my arms to give her a big hug. The surprised look on her face confirmed that she had no idea why I had  grabbed her, so I told her that I was very proud of her to be asking the question at such an early age.

She asked me what I meant by that so I told her that it seems to me that at some point we all ask this question. Then I discussed with her my belief that the meaning of life has to do with the manner in which we conduct ourselves and in addition, that this reality is probably unique to each one of us. Of course I asked her about her thoughts on the matter and was quite impressed when she said that the meaning of life is about love. And she said that she felt like the whole thing was similar to getting a present in the mail. Her provocative statement piqued my interest so I took the bait: "What do you mean it’s like receiving a package?" To which she replied, "you get something sent to you and you need to unwrap it." Wow, now there’s a bit of heavy topic rendered by a five year old, who incidentally just lost her first tooth.

So there we were two philosophers, one big and one small talking about the meaning of life. Of course neither of us had a definitive answer, just our thoughts on the matter. But didn’t she "hit the nail on the head" though? I’ve spent the better part of my life on this project, yet she was able to describe the dynamic after spending only a fraction of the time that I had used up pondering the question. And then it occurred to me that I shouldn’t be surprised. After all, at such an early age, wasn’t she carrying much less baggage then I?

I wonder: what might be in this experiential "trunk" of mine? For here are my life experiences all assembled and carried about by me wherever I go. I suppose that my luggage is probably full of a curious mixture of useful information and topical minutia, prejudice and learned empathy and perhaps… just maybe some jadedness also, but what of her’s? Surely it must be full of wonder at everything. And I suspect that there might be a direct correlation between her overwhelming sense of wonder and her ability to, at least in my opinion, effectively get her mind around such a difficult notion as life’s meaning. Whereas I, on the other hand, may actually be handicapped by the time that I’ve spent walking this earth. Perhaps we adults become somewhat dulled to the experience of life itself.

At any rate, as she continues to grow and develop (and ponder the question) it is my hope, that as a passenger on the space ship earth, if it is her inclination--which I suspect it may be, in her own way she might be able to help make this world a better place than, thus far I have been able to manage. It seems to me that might depend upon whether or not she can keep her heart alive and maintain her sense of wonder. Perhaps there’s a lesson in this for us all.




 (Essay Collection)