Saturday, 16 October 2010

The Meaning of Life

Posted by Tania Kindersley.

I admit this is a slightly big subject for a Saturday. I could just write about chicken soup instead. (There are some people who might say that chicken soup is the meaning of life, and occasionally I think I am of their number.) I'm not going to cover all of it, because I am aware that you have things to do.

I think about it all the time, because I am forty-three, and obviously I am having my big, fat, clichéd mid-life crisis. (Is that it? What are we doing here? Are we there yet?) In an attempt to head it off at the pass, I actually made myself have a mid-life crisis at thirty-eight, thinking I could get it out of the way and then go and do something more useful. Turns out, you can't duck it that easily. You can't just tick the box on your to do list and think that's it.

It's been creeping up on me for a while: an excessive concern with mortality, a ramping up of the critical voices, occasional midnight despair. How much I want to be particular, and how much I am just the same as everyone else.

This week, there was a small, sad story, which did not get much attention, partly because of the Chilean miners and partly, I think, because it is so perplexing. A bright, handsome student wrote a 1900 page treatise on nihilism. At the end of this mammoth work, he decided that life in fact had no point, and, in what must have seemed to him a logical act, he killed himself.

I don't know the meaning of life. It drives me nuts that I do not, because I have a craving to know everything that I possibly can. I wonder even if it is the right question to be asking. Once you deconstruct it a little it is as nonsensical as asking what is the meaning of feathers? Or, what are the significance of feet? It just is.

In Backwards, Sarah and I suggested that to love well and be loved in return is perhaps the finest human achievement. I know that bridges must be built and space explored and scientific breakthroughs made. I am passionately grateful that someone discovered the neutrino, and my friend the physicist ponders string theory over in Manhattan, and children no longer die of diphtheria. In the end though, without the love, there is not much point to anything.

I hate to sound like a Chinese fortune cookie, but I think the meaning and mystery of life is the resilience and profundity of the human heart. That's all I can offer you.

Also, possibly, DOGS.

Today, something peculiar in the light made them come out blue. There is something rare and splendid about dark blue dogs, in my book:



When swamped by the big existential questions, I find it soothing to concentrate on the small things. I might not be able to answer the Universal Why, but I can happily contemplate the miracle of dew:



One cannot grow too nihilistic when there are such glorious conkers on the ground:


And when even something so humble as a fallen leaf can look like a work of art, when examined from the right angle:



Of course, when all else fails, there is always the lichen:



And the trees:



And the last of the elderberries:


And the mysterious process in which the dear old hydrangea suddenly turns itself amber:


And the nodding violas, decked out with beads of dew that sparkle like diamonds:


Maybe the meaning is that there need be no meaning. And maybe that's sort of all right. As long as there are still conkers and elderberries, we can keep buggering on.


  1. Beautifully put, as always, Tania. And I am adopting your final sentence as a Guide to Living.

  2. Feeling so ill at the moment with a cold and a cough and a chest infection (woe very much IS me) and your photos were, as ever, a joy.
    The meaning of life? for me, it came to me having sadly lost both my parents before I even got close to 30; and that is, put simply - to be happy. To love and be loved being such an integral part of that.

  3. A very wise person who taught me a lot explained the meaning of life to me: He said the meaning of life was to live. And it clicked into place for me, there and then, and no other explanation has made any sense to me since.

    Your flora photography is gorgeous.

  4. I've no answer myself...but have just decided to enjoy life as it comes at me. I've gotten a lot of bad as of late...but am very much looking forward to the good! :)

  5. That Raymond Carver poem Late Fragment sums it up for me:

    And did you get what
    you wanted from this life, even so?
    I did.
    And what did you want?
    To call myself beloved, to feel myself
    beloved on the earth.

  6. I wouldnt know myself but I think to be appreciated, to be wanted to love and to love in return - not just people! would be good enough for me.

  7. Fantastic photos. Puts my attempts today to shame,

    Go Indigodoggy!

  8. Cassie - you are kind, thank you.

    Stripeycat - so sorry to hear about yr parents, but love yr philosophy of life.

    Hypotemuse - so glad you like the pictures. Tremendous meaning of life, thank you.

    Lindsey - here is to the Good.

    Betty M - did not know that poem. I adore it.

    Mystica - agree it does not just have to be people. I have great love for this beautiful place where I live; the Scottish mountains make my heart sing. Also, the dog love, of course, but you know all about that.

    Glory - love Indigodoggy. Is making me laugh.


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