You ever get these? You’re going along, making the bed or working or grocery shopping or fixing lunches or carpooling and bam! you’ve stepped off some subtle ledge, from meaningful to meaningless. It happens to me and I find myself asking: Why am I doing any of this?

I have children and I’m responsible for nurturing them. That’s clear, and it’s my joy. I have a partner, I have parents and sisters and friends — and I have a commitment to show up as best I can in my relationships with all these important people. But what, exactly, does the stuff I do in a day accomplish?

I was talking about this to an acquaintance recently, wondering aloud what the point of the busyness is, trying to figure out whether “responsibility” always equals “meaning.” (Well, we were really talking about soccer, so when I shifted into the existential she missed it — and I don’t blame her.)

“Maybe, since we’re on the planet through no choice of our own, maybe the point of all the activity is that we’ve got to interact with other people to grow, physically, emotionally, intellectually, spiritually,” I said. “We have to bump up against each other, to have experiences — and so we do stuff like go to soccer practice.”

“I think it’s good for children to get lots of exercise,” my friend said.

When you’re a kid, your purpose is to play. When you’re a teenager, your purpose is to rebel. When you’re a 20-something, your purpose is to strive for a career, a partner, education — which you then cement in your thirties. What’s after that? (And actually, is any of this paragraph true?)

Every time I go in circles about this, I eventually get to the spiritual life as the basis of meaning for everything. But still: Is the answer really that the meaning of life is to “love God”? How? Why? Whoever or whatever God is doesn’t need our love, exactly — so how does the spiritual make life meaningful?

Okay, I know from personal experience that it just does. It’s mysterious, this reason-for-living thing. It seems to have something to do with being connected to everything — whether or not I feel that at any given moment — and being of service, and somehow grocery shopping and soccer are supposed to be part of how I learn this.

But honestly, that’s just not a convincing answer all the time. That meaningless feeling still hits me every once in a while and I sort of hang out until it passes.

In any case, I’d love to discuss this further, but I’ve got to do the laundry.

What are your thoughts?

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About Kate

Things are weird in the wide world -- and like everyone else, most days I'm used to it. But to shake things up for myself, I like to notice and write about stuff that strikes me as both beautiful and strange, fascinating and repulsive, sweet and sour -- like how the steamy, stinky air that comes up from the BART vents at 16th Street Mission reminds me of being twenty-two, apparently immortal, and in love.

2 responses »

  1. lornamurphy says:

    I can identify with this, and being busy helps most of the time but it is sometimes harder to ignore. The good news is you have a family and writing to keep you occupied… I did some research a couple of years ago and found out that people without family by the time they were middle aged tended to just give up: drinking a lot, eating poorly, and generally saying ‘what’s the point in trying anyway?’. At least family gives life focus, if not meaning. I’m told (though it’s not something I am really able to do by the way), that the trick is to ‘focus on the journey, not the destination’ I suppose because there possibly isn’t a destination, or maybe right now is it.

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