“Life has to be given a meaning because of the obvious fact that it has no meaning.”
N_ was a good friend. But better than that, he was a very humble person. He was intelligent and studious, a deep thinker and poet. I used to live with him in my graduation years in Dehradun. This city is located at the base of the mountains of Himalayas. We often went for trekking or sightseeing at the nearest hill-station Mussorie. I have always been awed by the immensity and verdure of the vast mountains surrounding that place. In monsoons, Dehradun receives one of the heaviest rains in India.
It was also a monsoon season. It had been raining from the last one week. Sky was always grey. Air was always thick. Mussorie was invisible in clouds. Yet, many tourists couldn’t beat the desire to visit the Hill-station and feel the cool, fresh air of Shivaliks in their lungs. I used to be just a lazy and sleepy sloth. But N_ was excited. Some of his cousins and Uncles had come to visit him. One Early morning they planned to go to Mussorie. Through the clouds they went, into the vast greeneries, listening to the music of the moving pines in wind – They went and never came back. Their car fell in a 500 ft deep gorge. That was it-a sudden end to a promising story.
N_ was very close to his family. His grandmother and sister used to live with him in Dehradun. As the news of his death came, all hell broke loose. I can still hear their mad cries, shouting the name of their child- a brother and son- again and again. N_’s parents arrived late at night. His mother fell unconscious and was immediately taken to emergency. It is often said that when a women becomes a mother, her sole aim and meaning of life gets reduced to the happiness and well-being of her child only. What was the meaning left to her now?
I so hate this fear, the fear to lose your loved ones and live alone without them. But why is that? Why did N_’s grandma die only two months after his death? Why did N_’s mother go into chronic depression? How could anyone console them?
People who believe in God are consoled by their faith. That is why in religious funerals, verses from scriptures are read before the moaning relatives of the deceased. Verses which assure people that someone who has died is really not gone but he is in a better place now. He is with God.
“Fool of you, if you say, I’m not here but away,
I am always near, very near; in god’s arms now I sway.”
N_’s parents were staunch believers in God. So I think that they weren’t actually crying for their son as much as they were crying for their own lost purpose. Or was it a shake of faith that terrified them so much? It can be anything. If life is so unpredictable, so unsecure than what is the meaning of it? There is no hope for tomorrow, then how can one bring himself to inner peace?
Purpose creates a meaning to life. A person can have one or many purposes in his life. These purposes give him the impetus to move forward and explore his life. Without a meaning, a person will fall into an existential vacuum that would lead to boredom, depression, hysteria or other psychological problems. Therefore anyone who does not shoots himself in the head or slits his wrist under the pressure of depression, has a purpose in his life.
A scientist can have a purpose to discover the cure of blood cancer and the meaning of his life can be to serve humanity through science. If he keeps working on his goals, some speed-bumps in his life won’t stop him. A Religious person can have the purpose to serve his God’s will and the meaning of his life can be to attain his salvation through his good deeds on earth. An athlete can have a purpose to win gold in Olympics and the meaning of his life could be to bring glory to his country or sportsmanship or whatever.
But what if with a sudden twist of fate, the athlete loses his limbs? All of a sudden, the purpose which brought him inner peace and kept him sailing in the high tides of life would be destroyed. This is the situation when a person falls into depression and either destroys his life or his will to live. Even if he lives, he is no more recognizable than a patient spending his days in a hospital in a vegetative state. In such a case, a psychiatrist or psychoanalyst will try to provide a new purpose and meaning (Logotherapy) to the life of the athlete. Like, trying to convince him that his accident has given him the opportunity to train other people in athletics and achieve his own goal through them. That can work!
It can be said that the meaning of one person’s life can be greater than the meaning of another person. But ultimately, any meaning will only help the person to live his life peacefully. Also it would be judgmental on my part to say that the purpose of anyone’s life can be easily replaced or even replaced at all. Perhaps, based on the emotional and intelligence quotient of a person, there is only a limited number of choices for any person from which he can chose his purpose and then derive a meaning.
Now, coming back to the above story, I saw on that fateful day how people were trying to console N_’s parents by the name of God. One woman
said sobbingly, “Your son is with God now, so don’t cry. You all will meet him again, so don’t cry. He won’t be peaceful in heaven watching his dear mother cry, so please don’t cry”. I felt that these words used to bring a strange calmness on the face of my dead friend’s mother. Somehow, N_’s mother could replace the purpose and meaning in her life by getting more and more devoted to God.
This is not a unique case. We all know of someone or the other who has found solace in God’s name after a loved one of his family died. But isn’t that a false consolation? I had once a discussion on this topic with some of my atheist friends. One of them said, just replace the word God with Alcohol or drugs in this case and you will understand the difference. I want to argue that this is a wrong analogy. Drugs and alcohol weaken and slow down a man’s progress. But billions of religious people around the world just go on daily with their lives and add value to the society and country they live in. And anyways, until and unless we can come up with a medicine or technology that can help such vulnerable people get a purpose in their life, I will support ‘’God’’ as a medicine for them. Victor Frankl talks about how thousands of Jews were able to easily handle the hardships in Concentration Camps with the help of their belief in God. Francis Collins in his book, ‘’The Language of God’’ writes that in his career as a doctor, he was amazed to see how many patients with terminal illness were able to go through their pain easily by holding on to their belief in God.
Life is uncertain. We plan for the future on the belief that we will live to see the next day. This uncertainty troubles many people. The fear of that great void of death, ‘the eternal silence’, troubles many people. So they invented their Gods to face this uncertainty and overcome their fear of death.
I think that as any animal would start to become more and more conscious about itself and as it would fulfill its primary need of nourishment and safety, the next halt will be to overcome the fear of life’s uncertainty and search for a meaning to it. For billions of people around the world, this meaning comes in the name of Krishna, Jesus, Allah or Yahweh. True or false means nothing in this context.
If you disagree with me then write your views in the comment section.