11.01.2022 Feature Article

The Meaning Of Life: Why We Need To Travel Light

The Meaning Of Life: Why We Need To Travel Light
11.01.2022 LISTEN

In 1988, when I was leaving Ghana for Canada to pursue my graduate education, a Ghanaian woman in the program was given the writing task to advise me on preparing for the journey. Though I do not have the letter with me as I write, I remember one thing pretty well from the letter. She wrote, "Stephen, make sure you travel light because everything you will need is here." What great advice! Though I packed my suitcase with many things, I realized that everything I took was there upon my arrival in Canada, as the lady wisely advised me. Why are we gathering so many things that we cannot carry with us?

In an article in "The meaning of life" edited by E.D. Klemke, the philosopher Richard Taylor, compared the meaninglessness of life to the ancient myth of Sisyphus, who betrayed the mysteries of the gods to mortals. Sisyphus was punished, and the gods condemned him to roll a great boulder to the top of a hill. But, every time Sisyphus, with all his efforts and toil, gets the boulder to the summit, it rolls back down, again and again. Nevertheless, Sisyphus had to roll the great boulder to the top of the hill again and again forever.

The myth of Sisyphus had been given various interpretations: the idiotic cycle of eternal human struggle and unquenchable spirit and determination to try repeatedly in the face of perpetual discouragement, failings, and frustrations. But then Taylor adds another dimension to Sisyphus's myth, making it more insightful and exciting. He writes, " Let suppose that the gods, while condemning Sisyphus to the fate just described, at the same time, as an afterthought, waxed perversely merciful by implanting in him a strange and irrational impulse; namely, a compulsive impulse to roll stones. We may, if we like to make this more graphic, suppose they accomplish this by implanting in him some substance that affects his character and drive."

Taylor intends to say that Sisyphus's mundane activity's meaninglessness does not change, but the new substance in his vein makes this meaningless activity enjoyable and more fulfilling. Aren't we all like Sisyphus? Have we gone through the same mundane activities to gather many things we do not need and will never need? I have said several times that it is nonsensical for one person to have a billion dollars. If Money is a medium of exchange for goods and services, then one can ask: How many goods and services does one person need, while others sleep daily without food and shelter?

Many of us live a mechanical life. We wake up in the morning, get into our cars, and drive back and forth to work from Monday through Friday. We come back home, eat, shower, and go to bed only to repeat the cycle the next day. We work to pay the identical bills that do not stop coming: Mortgage, property taxes, water and electricity, waste management, gas, and insurance premium. Rarely do we take a pulse to ask ourselves the satisfaction we derive from these rhythmic and monotonous activities.

As if these monotonous activities are not enough to weary us, we also confront the hostilities of the world, the wickedness of fellow human beings, and our deteriorating health as we age. We face natural forces like torrential rains, earthquakes if you live in California and elsewhere, flooding, and storms that cause severe havoc to our lives and property. Leo Tolstoy, the Russian writer, considered one of the greatest authors of all time, in his autobiographical work, "A Confession," reveals that he became obsessed with the thought that life at the height of his literary work was meaningless. He thought everything leads to the truth, and that truth is death. He saw no reason to live. He saw his literary work as meaningless, despite his fame and popularity. He writes, "Sooner or later; there would come diseases and death … all my affairs would sooner or later be forgotten, and I would not exist." Like the philosopher Albert Camus, he thought suicide was the answer. However, he also realized that he could not find answers to his dilemma in science because science provides knowledge but does not comfort the troubled soul. He concluded that he could not derive answers to the meaning of life by rational or intellectual knowledge, but by instead in "an irrational knowledge," – Faith. Like St. Augustine, who wrote an autobiography like him, "The Confession," he also concluded that our souls are restless until they find rest in God.

Ladies and gentlemen, where do you find meaning in life? Why are you collecting so much that you cannot carry with you? Have you asked yourself your purpose in this world? Who is God? And does he exist? If God does not exist, then life becomes absurd. If there is no God, then man and the whole universe have no purpose because they will all come to ruination one day. If there is no hope of immortality, the grave will be our eternal bed. If there is no God, there is no purpose or value, and everything is permissible. Another Russian novelist, Fyodor Dostoevsky, wrote, "If there is no immortality, then all things are permitted."

Though the work we do has no eternal rewards or does not satisfy our soul, yet we take delight in rolling the boulders uphill every day? Why do humans behave the way we do, given that we have a short life span? Let us travel light, for we will soon leave everything behind. Let us seek our maker who has a purpose for every one of us. The Scriptures declare that He knew us before we were formed in our mothers' womb. Let us come before the face of God!

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