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The Meaning of Life

John W. Pinkerton


“What is the meaning of life?  Why was I born?  Or as James Stockwell famously said, "Who am I? Why am I here?"

Boy, when I hear someone ask some variation of these questions, I have the urge to slap them.

Folks my age don't often ask this question.  Younger folks, bless their hearts, do a lot of this navel gazing, and it fits in perfectly with their “deep thoughts.”

Folks of my generation have a tendency to say, “I'm alive.  Good enough and don't ask a lot of questions.”  As for me, the question is above my pay grade.

“What is the meaning of life?” is a question without an answer which means that man has come up with a boat load of answers.  Once again, bless our hearts.

If I want a lot of wrong answers to a question, I turn to the internet.   According to the internet, one can find the meaning of life through God, parenting, serving humanity, music, morality, and being compassionate as well as a myriad other lovely thoughts.

Not being very satisfied by what I was finding, I sought humorous responses to the question.  Damn, judging by the sparcity of humor related to the question, I'd judge that you folks are taking yourselves way too seriously.

However I did find of couple of jokes related to the meaning of life:

On the first day, God created the dog and said: "Sit all day by the door of your house and bark at anyone who comes in or walks past. For this, I will give you a life span of 20 years."

The dog said: "That's a long time to be barking. How about only 10 years and I'll give you back the other 10?'

So God agreed.

On the second day, God created the monkey and said: "Entertain people, do tricks, and make them laugh. For this, I'll give you a 20-year life span."

The monkey said: "Monkey tricks for 20 years? That's a pretty long time to perform. How about I give you back 10 like the Dog did?"

And God agreed.

On the third day, God created the cow and said:

"You must go into the field with the farmer all day long and suffer under the sun, have calves and give milk to support the farmer's family. For this, I will give you a life span of 60 years."

The cow said: "That's kind of a tough life you want me to live for 60 years. How about 20 and I'll give back the other 40?"

And God agreed again.

On the fourth day, God created man and said: "Eat, sleep, play, marry and enjoy your life. For this, I'll give you 20 years."

But man said: "Only 20 years? Could you possibly give me my 20, the 40 the cow gave back, the 10 the monkey gave back, and the 10 the dog gave back -- that makes 80, OK?"

"OK," God said. "As long as you're sure."

So that is why for our first 20 years we eat, sleep, play and enjoy ourselves. For the next 40 years we slave in the sun to support our family. For the next 10 years we do monkey tricks to entertain the grandchildren. And for the last 10 years we sit on the front porch and bark at everyone.

And that, my friends, is the meaning of life. Now you know.

That one is okay, but I found the next one more satisfying:

It was back in the old days and my friend was into this new age wisdom and spirituality and stuff. Well, one day he heard of this special guru who knew the meaning of life in the universe, so my friend drove from Blairstown to the airport in Newark and caught a plane to India.

When the plane landed in India, he took a train. When the train got to the end of its track he got off and rented a jeep. He drove the jeep to the foothills of the mountains and borrowed a donkey. He rode the donkey until the donkey could go no further and then walked up the mountain to the guru's cave. He entered the cave and he told the guru that he had come to find the meaning of life in the universe.

The guru said that the meaning of life in the universe was mushrooms.

At first my friend was confused, but the more he thought about it the more of his questions were answered by mushrooms. My friend ran out of the cave and down the mountain. At the bottom of the mountain he got back onto the donkey and rode the donkey to the jeep.

He drove the jeep to the train and took the train to the plane. He took the plane to Newark and drove his car from Newark to Blairstown. My friend told all his friends that the meaning to life in the universe was mushrooms!

But they said, “No,” and he could not answer any of their other questions, so he decided that mushrooms were not the meaning of life in the universe. So he drove from Blairstown to Newark airport and caught a plane to India. When the plane landed in India he took a train as far as it would go.

When the train got to the end of its track he got off and rented a jeep and he drove the jeep to the foothills of the mountains and borrowed a donkey. He rode the donkey until the donkey could go no further and then walked up the mountain to the guru's cave.

He entered the cave and he told the guru that the meaning to life in the universe was NOT mushrooms.

The guru said, "Well then it must be turnips."

You must agree that “it must be turnips” is funny…or maybe not, you silly, sanctimonious, humorless…oh, nevermind.

I looked for memorable quotes about the meaning of life.  The following are by smart folks who know their limitations:

“There is not one big cosmic meaning for all; there is only the meaning we each give to our life, an individual meaning, an individual plot, like an individual novel, a book for each person.”

Anais Nin

“The meaning of life is life.”

Alan Alda

“There is only one meaning of life: the act of living itself.”

Erich Fromm

“For the meaning of life differs from man to man, from day to day and from hour to hour. What matters, therefore, is not the meaning of life in general but rather the specific meaning of a person's life at a given moment.”

Viktor E. Frankl

“Life has no meaning. Each of us has meaning and we bring it to life. It is a waste to be asking the question when you are the answer.”

Joseph Campbell

“I don't know the meaning of life. I don't know why we are here. I think life is full of anxieties and fears and tears. It has a lot of grief in it, and it can be very grim. And I do not want to be the one who tries to tell somebody else what life is all about. To me it's a complete mystery.”

Charles M. Schulz

“My dog doesn't worry about the meaning of life. She may worry if she doesn't get her breakfast, but she doesn't sit around worrying about whether she will get fulfilled or liberated or enlightened. As long as she gets some food and a little affection, her life is fine.”

Joko Beck

I guess I have a lot of dog in me because that one I understand.

“You will never be happy if you continue to search for what happiness consists of. You will never live if you are looking for the meaning of life.”

Albert Camus

“The purpose of life is to stay alive. Watch any animal in nature---all it tries to do is stay alive. It doesn't care about beliefs or philosophy. Whenever any animal's behavior puts it out of touch with the realities of its existence, it becomes extinct.”

Michael Crichton, Congo

Here's a good one.

“In the beginning, God created the earth, and he looked upon it in His cosmic loneliness.

And God said, "Let Us make living creatures out of mud, so the mud can see what We have done." And God created every living creature that now moveth and one was man. Mud as man alone could speak. God leaned close to mud as man sat up, looked around, and spoke. Man blinked. "What is the purpose of all this?" he asked politely.

"Everything must have a purpose?" asked God.

"Certainly," said man.

"Then I leave it to you to think of one for all this," said God.

And He went away.”

Kurt Vonnegut, Cat's Cradle

See?  Even God can't figure it out.

On the darker side, I like this final quote:

“Sometimes I wonder if suicides aren't in fact sad guardians of the meaning of life.”

Vaclav Havel

You don't know, you can't know, you don't want to know the meaning of life. I'm satisfied with the answer “turnips.”