The Meaning Of Life Is To Give Life Meaning

September 24, 2012 at 9:54 pm , by 

22 months.

It would be most appropriate to begin by quoting the opening of the movie (500) Days of Summer:

“Most days of the year are unremarkable. They begin, and they end, with no lasting memories made in between. Most days have no impact on the course of a life.”

Knowing this, I always try to end each day by trying to figure out what made that day special compared to every day I’ve ever lived.

But not today, because I already know.

I want to bookmark this moment in my life, as if some major milestone has just been reached, or some great accomplishment has just been achieved.

Simply put, it really does come down to a 72 cent fire truck I bought for my son yesterday. That’s what makes today special.

I feel more alive today, not just because we finally made it to autumn, my favorite time of year. Instead, my state of euphoria exists because I know I made my son very happy by buying him that fire truck.

On this day, I do not feel overwhelmed as a husband and dad trying to provide for his family. I am not desperately in need of sleep or a boost in confidence in my abilities of what society expects of me or even what I expect of myself.

Nor I am worried about the end of the world; no, I’m not concerned that Communist China will take over America, or Communist Russia, or even religious extremist terrorists.

In fact, if the world as we know it came to an end right now, at least I would know I ceased to exist while in a state of accidental bliss.

It all goes back to my wife and I standing in the checkout aisle at the store and me telling my son, “You’ve been a really good boy today and we know you really want a fire truck, so we’re going to buy it for you.”

He didn’t even smile; he just kept a somber look on his face that somehow communicated gratitude even more than smile could.

It’s seeing him celebrate back at the house by making his fire truck the head of a parade with his other toy cars.

It’s knowing all day at work I was thinking about my son and how happy I made him by buying him some cheap toy.

In this moment I feel extremely needed by a little boy who is dependent on me for little surprises in life, like a toy fire truck.

The meaning of life is to give life meaning. I thoroughly believe that.

And right now, I am experiencing it.

In simplicity.

I Don’t Want to Die Right Now

September 8, 2011 at 10:59 pm , by 

Nine months.

I’ve only got about 50 years left to live, if that.

Most nights as I fall asleep, I can’t help but think how sleeping through the night is sort of like checking out of reality, reminding me of the lyrics to Tom Petty’s classic song, “Freefalling”: “I want to leave this world for a while.”

Though I’m overly aware that at any given second I could die of any random cause, like instantly turning into a pillar of salt, I’m never more aware of the inevitability of death than when I am fading and falling into the dream world.

Sleeping is the closest thing I know to having an understanding of what it’s like to be dead. It’s the closest concept I have of understanding what it’s not like to live in this world, confined to rules of practicality and common sense.

Sure, it’s an understatement to admit that I don’t want to die right now. But I’ve never been more caught up in life than I am at this very moment, so it’s really on my mind.

After all, I have made a covenant before God to love my wife for as long as we both shall live. Then the two of us brought another life into this world. That’s pretty dang epic. That’s deep.

So now that I have involved myself this drastically in the course of history (and therefore, the future), I’m just dying to stick around. It’s not simply that I want to see what happens next; not simply that I want to see how the story unfolds with my wife and son. But I want to literally be here, as part of their story.

Without a doubt, it’s sad to think that the story could go on without me. It’s sad to think that has been reality for so many people who “died before their time.”

I’m not afraid of death. I couldn’t be any more confident of what happens to me the second after I die. But while I’m not afraid of death, I am pretty fascinated by it.

It amazes me that millions of people alive today in this world could take life (and therefore, death) so nonchalantly: That despite all the miracles in their lives, they never see a need to think past this life, and to consider how the people they interact with each day can be affected eternally by their words and actions.

How can a person not think about eternity, or convince themselves it doesn’t exist? The irony: that life itself distracts a person from thinking about death.

I can’t imagine not taking enough time to pause and wonder about what happens when the lights finally go out for good and what this life was for. I do it on a daily basis.

So it’s not that I ever wanted to die, or wouldn’t mind dying, but now more than ever, if I have any say in the matter, it’s as simple as this:

I don’t want to die right now.

And if I shall continue waking up alive each day, as I have done for 30 years so far, then I shall continue to live to the best of my ability. I’m the kind of guy who takes life way too seriously, but in a good way, I would like to think.

Is Life in Black and White or in Color? Is It Real or Just a Dream? What was Before and What is Beyond the Vanilla Sky?

At point does “real” become imaginary?  Or does “real” never become imaginary, but instead, is “real” sometimes unseen and not yet understood?

What initially begins as blue skies which we can literally see above us does eventually become the dark, black, mysterious outer space where we assume God and the angels are.  And maybe even aliens and time traveling holes in the universe. While the past simply begins at one second ago, which we all can verify quite easily, if we continue going back in time, we eventually find ourselves in stitched-together memories of high school and even childhood.  Keep going, and we were not even born yet.  Travel further back in time, and we would see Abraham Lincoln, whom we all agree was a real person.  Go still further back to the life of Jesus, whom some proclaim is the Son of God, some proclaim was simply a great teacher, and some proclaim was never actually a real person. Go back to the days of Abraham, the earthly father of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.  Finally, we get to Adam and Eve and before that, the beginning of the Earth and the Universe.  But at what point in reverse time do you stop believing in reality?  At what point does it become hard to believe?

What started out as simple look around us ended up becoming one strange trip. It’s easy to recognize what exists right before us in our own time and space.  But very quickly as we extend the frame of perception, we have to admit we can not literally prove anything.  Faith is unavoidable, for every single person alive today and every single person who has died in the history of the world.

While I am definitely a self-proclaimed black and white kind of guy, as I love things to be simply laid out before me in a practical way I can follow and understand them, I am just as equally an abstract, neon colors kind of guy as well. I am a cross-breed.  I am a hybrid.  And I believe that life is as well.

We can not separate the mostly relatable first episode of the TV show LOST from its spiritual, heavenly series finale.  Our existence is both real and a dream.  It is both tangible and invisible.  It is both reality and a fairy tale.  Until we reach the limits of outer space, and until we travel completely back and forwards in time, life is something we can not truly begin to figure out or understand in the smallest degree.

Life is both black and white and color.  Life is both real and a dream.

Seeing Your Life Flash Before Your Eyes in a God-Nudged Leap of Faith (Like Being in a Near Death Experience)

I will begin with an excerpt from the final scene of the movie American Beauty, narrated by the protagonist “Lester Burnham”- played by Kevin Spacey:

I’d always heard your entire life flashes in front of your eyes the second before you die. First of all, that one second isn’t a second at all. It stretches on forever, like an ocean of time. For me, it was lying on my back at Boy Scout Camp, watching falling stars. And yellow leaves from the maple trees that lined our street. Or my grandmother’s hands, and the way her skin seemed like paper… It’s hard to stay mad when there’s so much beauty in the world. Sometimes I feel like I’m seeing it all at once, and it’s too much. My heart fills up like a balloon that’s about to burst. And then I remember to relax, and stop trying to hold on to it. And then it flows through me like rain. And I can’t feel anything but gratitude for every single moment of my stupid little life. You have no idea what I’m talking about, I’m sure. But don’t worry, you will someday.

I would venture to say that every living person is familiar with the idea of your own life flashing before your eyes right before you die- whether you actually die or it’s just a near death experience.  Interestingly, it’s not career titles or material possessions that are included in these flashes. Seeing your life flash before your eyes is a great way to be reminded of what’s truly important to you: People and the important events of our lives that involve them. “Loved ones”, as we tend to call these important family members, friends, and mentors- though sometimes that term is used more often after they have passed on.

Knowing that the living people who I am closest to are the most important and influential thing in my life, they became the inspiration for my leap of faith.  My wife and I decided that bringing our son into this world meant we should move to my hometown to be surrounded by family.  Honestly, it wasn’t that difficult for me to abandon the financial security we had back in Nashville.  Because again, it’s wasn’t financial security that showed up when I allowed my life to flash before my eyes.  On many levels it may seem foolish that we left steady jobs in a very unsteady job market, but we believed that God would honor our trust in Him to provide for us, knowing we deliberately chose family over financial security.

Though I’m not in a near death experience right now, in this God-nudged leap of faith, time is standing still as I see a constant slideshow of what I have lived through as well as what I hope to see once I land.  I struggle daily not to play the “what if?” game, regarding my past.  But at this point, it’s not about the decisions that led me to this difficult place.  It’s what God can do with this situation and how He can be seen by others because of it.  Not to mention, I know that this event will either enhance my faith through discipline and patience, or it will cause me to foolishly put faith in men who may or may not provide a job for me.

Fortunately, it’s not people who provide jobs anyway.  It’s not them who help me provide for my family.  It is completely God.  That’s something I have begun reminding myself daily.  And in the process, I have been directed to one of God’s Hebrew names: Jehovah Jireh.  It means “The Lord will provide”.  I have been getting in the habit of praying to Jehovah Jireh, as His name specifically declares His providence.

I am not hopeless.  I will personally admit that as a man who is designed to care for his family, not having a job though I am fully capable and qualified, is quickly taking away my dignity.  But really, is dignity what I am after?  No.  Seeking after God and only trusting in him, not men or corporations or even myself, is a humiliating process.  The word “humiliating” has such a negative connotation to it.  But being humbled is important.  Pride is to be damned, literally.  It only gets in the way.

So damn my pride to hell.  Damn my dignity too.  So what if every time a new door closes a new one opens, only to be shut just like the others.  More than once now my wife and I have seen the perfect jobs dangled right in front of us in job interviews, being one of two final candidates for the position.  But ultimately, the blessing of a job goes to the other person- a person who statistically predicting, would not jump at the chance to glorify God in the way we will once they get a job.  Or a sudden hiring freeze appears.  Something has always caused to the door to shut, so far.

I don’t even know anymore whether these “almost got the job” situations are a result of spiritual warfare in some lesser modern day story of Job or whether it is God Himself allowing these interceptions to increase our faith in Him.  As I watch our $10,000 in savings that we moved here with dwindle to less than half that now, I wonder if taking this leap of faith with $75,000 would have made any difference.  Because then we would have $65,000 more confidence in ourselves.

It’s not money we need- it’s jobs.  And men can’t provide those- only God can. Whatever the lesson is to be learned here, we will learn it.  God will provide. It’s His name, after all.  Jehovah Jireh, I believe it!

Proverbs 16:18
Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.

Proverbs 29:23
A man’s pride brings him low, but a man of lowly spirit gains honor.

Ecclesiastes 7:8
The end of a matter is better than its beginning, and patience is better than pride.

Just Like the Uniqueness of Human Fingerprints, No Two People Share the Same Version of Reality

Is the integrity of “reality” compromised because it’s different for every person on Earth?

One of the subconscious questions that we movie watchers love to deal with is “What is reality?”  Maybe the main character was actually dead the whole time.  Maybe the whole thing was a computer-generated reality that took place centuries after the main character died.  Maybe the setting wasn’t really the 1800’s, but instead current day the entire time.  These movie twists are interesting because they reveal our fascination with the fact that “reality” is more of an idea and less of a certainty.  Even if most people agree that this world we all live in is indeed reality, there is still the afterlife (or “after reality”) to consider, which completely complicates and enhances the importance of reality.

These thoughts about reality, the meaning of life, and the afterlife are unavoidable at some point in life, for most people.  When someone we are close to dies, our thoughts have to at least consider for a few minutes what happens next for that person.  But even in its simplest form, it’s still difficult to grasp the fact that reality, if nothing else, is different for every person on Earth- and therefore, reality is a static thing, even if most of us agree what reality generally is.  So why is reality so different for each individual?

Sometimes when I read, I come across a quote that I wish I would have thought up myself.  Last week as I was reading Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs by Chuck Klosterman, hidden somewhere in the middle of this random yet organized book (page 169) I found this nugget of epiphany: “The strength of your memory dictates the size of your reality.”

For a guy like me who is arguably only a few notches away from being Aspergers, with a vibrant memory of details of my life all the way back to my 2nd birthday party in 1983, my obsessive habits regarding pop trivia, and my natural ability to memorize Wikipedia highlights, it could be said that if the above quote is true, then the size of my reality is pretty large.  But even if you’re not a walking Wikipedia like me, you still have used your memory to save meaningful information (like certain things you learned in your highest level of education, as well as social cues and expectations) along with meaninglessinformation (like who won the Super Bowl in 1997 or who Jake Pavelka chose on the finale of The Bachelor).  The purposeful along with the pointless are both mixed together along with memories from your life that for whatever reason are not forgotten.  These are some of the major ingredients that make up an individual reality.

But even if we can’t all share the same reality (which would be beyond boring), through our meaningful human relationships we can form a similar version of reality.  For life to have meaning, life must be shared: The more shared experiences people have with each other, the greater their shared reality is.  Our friendships, our families, our political affiliations, our religious organizations… they all help make reality a reality.


How “Farmers’ Marketing” Leads to the Microtrend of “Hometown Migration”

It’s never been cooler to live a simple yet authentic life.  Let me introduce you to the new American Dream.

*New words I made up for this post, which you will want to become familiar with:

Farmers’ Marketing noun: Not the actual gathering of a community in a central location in order to buy, sell, and trade their local produce and goods, but instead a subculture or lifestyle which reflects a mindset of minimal personal possessions, busyness, and stress; therefore rejecting the traditional mainstream idea of the American Dream.

Hometown Migration noun: A movement of late twentysomethings and early thirtysomethings actually moving back their own hometown several years after establishing a career and beginning a family in a big city; therefore refreshing the town they grew up in with new ideas and in essence, “new blood”.

There was a time when bigger and flashier was better.  And while there are still people out there driving Hummers (though it’s common knowledge that people who drive them tend to be obnoxious, unlike people who drive Jeeps) and who still refuse to buy store brand products, even down to their hand soap and kitchen table condiments (like it matters that your bottle of mustard says “Kroger” instead of “Hunt’s”), I think it’s safe to say that the modern cultural movement is towards simplicity.  We as a nation are learning the meaning of “living within our means” and not consuming more than we actually need; that credit cards are the devil and that food buffets are Diabetes factories.  We get it now that money isn’t everything- and more importantly, that it in theory it’s a waste of time to chase more money our whole lives only to find by the time we retire there may be nothing left for our own social security.  Money is simply a necessary evil, as far as I’m concerned.

This shift towards simplicity also translates to the people we allow to become celebrities through our favorite reality shows.  Celebrating mediocrity mixed with absurdity has obviously become a successful formula.  We no longer need to see beautiful people living in melodramatic plotlines.  Okay, so maybe The Bachelor is an exception. But it’s pretty refreshing to see normal people any hour of the day on HGTV.

Even though it’s not actually a reality show (but instead a fake reality show), I don’t see The Office being as good if everyone in the cast were exceptionally good-looking like the cast of Private Practice, Grey’s Anatomy, or any other “provocative” show that repulses me equally.  Interestingly, The Office is more believable as a mockumentary because the plain-looking actors seem more like people we actually know in real life, instead of stereotypical stock characters we’ve already seen before in every other TV show.

It’s no coincidence that the Age of the Reality TV Show we are currently living in kicked into gear around the same time that the Internet became a standard for most middle class households (around the year 2000).  The Internet allows unqualified and unspectacular people to be seen and heard by anyone else in the world who is willing to look and listen.  We are able to, in a sense, peer into the lives of other regular people just like us.  And it’s evidently fascinating.  Simplicity translates as authenticity; and the idea of authenticity sells.

By far, the most popular and most recognizable thing I write here on Scenic Route Snapshots is my <a href="dad from day one series.  Noted, I am not the least bit famous (that means I don’t have a Wikipedia entry).  And while having a baby is absolutely a miracle, I can’t say that my story is drastically unique compared to most people who have gone through the experience of having their first child.  So why do people love to read about the pregnancy experience, being that it’s so common and familiar? Good narration from a male perspective is a part of it, which I can thank The Wonder Years, Scrubs, and Dexter for help with that. But really, there’s a certain comfort in feeling like you’re listening to someone you personally know, even if you don’t actually personally know them.

Though I would consider myself to be a “real writer”, being that my college degree is in English and that I have been writing original web content for over 5 years now, I can’t consider myself to be a “professional writer” because writing is not literally my profession- I have yet to make one penny off of anything I’ve written here on Scenic Route Snapshots.  As a recent commenter cleverly worded it after reading “healthnutshell: What Exactly is Food These Days?”, he labeled what I do as “guerilla-style publishing”.  I am clearly not doing this for money- I am doing it for art, for entertainment, for social commentary, for experience, and for my own sanity’s sake.  And therefore what I do is “organic”.  In other words, I haven’t “sold out”.

I was talking to one of my brothers-in-law today (my wife has 7 brothers) about the farmers’ market-minded, used-car-driving, old-school-is-king culture of hipster cities like Portland, Oregon where he lived for several years.  It appears that there is a Farmers’ Marketing of current American society, especially from those in my generation.  Inevitably mimicking the frugalness of those who grew up during The Great Depression, we are finding ourselves repeating history.  We no longer impress each other with classic status symbols like expensive cars: I always think it’s hilarious when someone I know gets a brand new car (as opposed to a dependable used one) and everyone says to them: “Oh, congratulations!  I like your new ride!”

Humorously, the brand new car owner is being congratulated on incurring a huge new debt.  Dave Ramsey explains that a paid off mortgage is the new financial status symbol. As much as I have a hard time admitting it, the Eighties are over.  Just like a familiar voice is welcomed or a worn-in pair of sneakers are so comfortable, allowing myself to become Farmers’ Marketed feels, so natural, so organic, so average, yet so right.

So it only makes sense why I’ve noticed the migration of so many of my high school and college friends back to their hometown, now that they’ve had several years to establish some career experience in a large city, get married, and possibly start a family.  Instead of climbing the corporate ladder, they’re taking their big city experience back to a town with a much lower cost of living; where the word traffic is simply defined by when the train comes through twice a day, barricading cars from crossing over to the other side of town for ten minutes.  It’s not simply that these people are moving back because they are now ready to settle down; it’s also has a lot to do with Farmers’ Marketing.  In order to truly simplify one’s life, it makes more sense to strive for peace-and-quiet than hustle-and-bustle.

Can you put a price tag on “peace of mind”?  I say you can.  The cost is giving up a higher salary, but adopting a lower overhead.  And people are doing this: Renting out their town houses in the big city and moving back to their hometown.  They realize that true retirement may not be a viable option and that if they can find a less stressful job they enjoy, it’s not really “work”.  From Farmers’ Marketing to Hometown Migration, there is an undeniable movement towards simplicity that will ultimately become a common characteristic of those of us who grew up watching Transformers… back when they were simply a cartoon show and had nothing to do with Shia LaBeouf.

Here’s to authenticity.

“There’s a message in the skies and in the streets: ‘Opportunity, the American Dream’.  It’s in the radio; it’s superstars- the veins and arteries that feed your heart.  From the Dairy Queen to the head of the parade, in a blink your life could change.”

-Guster, “This Could All Be Yours”



Becoming a Different Person at Work: Does It Truly Always Pay to Be Yourself?

I wish the “real world” would just stop hassling me.

In theory, I am an actor for a living.  Given the generation I am a part of, I am overaware that I should never be ashamed of who I really am.  That it’s basically a sin to pretend to be someone I’m not.  And while I’ve done a pretty good job of living my life that way, there is one facet of life where I’ve learned it’s not really smart to be yourself- instead, you’re rewarded by being a different person- I’m referring to the work place.

I’ve explained my theory before that we all have a handful of different personalities that we share with different people in our lives.  But recently I realized that the personality I use at work is drastically different than any other of my personalities.  Here are just a few observances about me at work and how that’s not the real me:

-More aggressive and confrontational with people I don’t personally know

-Cautious to speak my mind or let my emotions show

-Don’t stand up for myself, even against co-workers

-Do my best to hide my true personality

-Constantly act as if I know all the answers

-Pretend I don’t have a life outside work

-Wear glasses, since I’m in front of a computer all day

-Tuck shirt into pants

"Work Chandler" is a prime example.

 

It’s sad for me to play this part of someone I’m not- but here’s the thing: By playing my “work role”, I am able to make a living.  Literally, it pays to be someone I’m not.  What is the real world?  To me, it’s my life outside of work.  But to many, it represents work, along with a lifestyle of chasing things that don’t actually matter- and that’s when I throw the phrase into sarcastic quotation marks like this: the “real world”.

When I go to work everyday, I enter an imaginary Avatar world where I care about policies, technicalities, the constant appearance of busyness, and being a guy who is not willing to rock the boat.  For me, that’s not the real world at all (though typically work and responsibility equals the “real world”) – but it pays the bills for the actual real world (my personal life), so I don’t complain.  Even now, I am simply making an observation that I’m sure many of us subconsciously know, but keep tucked away in the back of our minds, as to not seem ungrateful for our jobs.  I am extremely grateful for my employment, but the bottom line is, the version of me that people from work know is not me at all- and I’ve worked with them for years now.


Every place of employment has their own culture; their own unspoken rules.  Your first couple of weeks, you keep your head down and observe the code.  What matters there?  What doesn’t matter there?  Then once you get a good feel for it, you become the necessary person for that version of reality.  This is normal procedure.  The norm is not to be yourself- because if you did, you wouldn’t fit into the culture and would endanger yourself of… being voted off the island.

I work from 7:00 AM to 5:00 PM, Monday through Friday, with two 15 minute breaks and an hour lunch.  That’s 42.5 hours a week, which translates to ¼ of my life, and that’s including sleep.  By the time I factor in travel time (an hour a day), and time to cook dinner and then clean up, I only see my wife for a couple of hours before it’s time to time for bed.  And the weekends are obviously full of errands and chores we didn’t have time for during the weekdays.  Put into perspective, the time allotted for the actual real world (life outside of work) translates to crumbs from a huge meal.  I spend more waking hours with coworkers (who know a false version of me) than I do my own wife (who knows the real me).

The term “the real world” typically represents the hustle-and-bustle part of life.  But the irony is that for most of us (I hope), we recognize the real world and as the reality where we can truly be ourselves.  Because unless I worked at home as a full time writer, I will continue spending one quarter of my life acting as an aggressive, nerdy, robotic, no complaints yes-man.

Granted, the work place isn’t the only situation where it doesn’t pay to be yourself.  Anytime you have to “be on your best behavior”, you’re not really being yourself.  Like a first date.  You may be taking certain hidden traits of and qualities of yours and amplifying them for the right occasion, but still, in general, it’s a major stretch from your normal self.  It pays to be yourself most of the time, but to ignore the inevitable exceptions is a set up for failure.

“I find sometimes it’s easy to be myself. Sometimes I find it’s better to be somebody else.” -Dave Matthews Band (“So Much to Say”)