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The Meaning of Life

September 25, 2007

Note:  Hang with me as I get to the point addressed in the title; I do eventually get there!

“I thought I had reached a point in life where everything would be
smooth. But it is not. It just gets more jagged and pitted and filled with
turns that take you into the dark recesses of your mind. It never seems to
get easy.”

~Sylvester Stallone

I just received this quote in my inbox when I checked my hotmail
account a few minutes ago; it sums up well what I’ve been thinking
and feeling over the past few weeks. 

Contrary to what most people think about me, I do not have my life
figured out.  I am not the wholesome young woman that most people
assume me to be, with a clearcut path to the future.  I am driven
and passionate, yes, but I am not set on a straight path; I am not
sinless or guilt free, or without complexity.  I covet, I curse; I
love, I lose; I’ve skipped class, not finished homework; I’ve been
married and divorced.

Ever since 2002, when I visited South Africa, I have been someone that
no one else yet seems to have come to quite understand.  I
returned from that trip completely shaken, completely and utterly
disgusted with people of privilege, with whom I associate my very own
middle-class friends, family, and colleagues.  People like to see
the world in shades of gray, to beat around the bush, to avoid
polemical issues–but the world I saw in South Africa was very much
black and white, as distinct as night and day.  There are haves in
this world and there are have nots, and the only way to right things is
for the haves to give up a significant chunk of what they have. 
To me, it is that simple, it is that black and white.

The problem is that I and the people I know best are part of this
privileged world that I so despise.  I have forsaken much of it
(not all of it), and want the people around me to do the same. 
However, many of my friends, family, and colleagues haven’t; they
continue to live contentedly within a system that I view to be
destructive because it is what they know.  I cannot and do not
fault them for this; not everyone has been to South Africa, Mexico,
Brazil, or to North or South Philly, and even if they have, they may
not have been exposed to the alternatives to life as we know it that I
have been exposed to. 

Nevertheless, I continue to feel very negatively towards many aspects
of my native culture and economy, which in turn makes me often feel out
of place in particular crowds and situations, silenced because I don’t
want to offend people with my true thoughts.  What am I supposed
to say when someone is showing off the size and features of their new
home when all I am thinking is “You’re taking up too much space! 
Consuming too much energy!  Ten people should be living here, not
two!!”  Or when someone buys something new to replace something
they already had that worked perfectly fine, when in my mind I’m
thinking with exasperation, “What was wrong with the other
one?!!”  [Note:  If they happened to have purchased the
replacement item from a Fair Trade cooperative and donated the previous
item to someone in need, I would be able to express honest approval ]

I am making these thoughts explicit because I want you, my friends,
families, colleagues, and random readers to know, and maybe even
understand, some of what goes on inside of my head; to know why
sometimes I’m silent, why sometimes I feel alone in the middle-class
world to which I belong but don’t belong.  I think this is
ultimately the ongoing conflict that is being magnified in me right now
as I reenter the academic world, to which I have many similar

Do any of you feel this way?  Am I not alone?

I don’t want this to offend people, but at the same time, I’ve felt so
surpressed for so long that I don’t want to have to pretend anymore; I
want everyone to know what I really think and to be okay with that, to
not feel offended by me, to know and understand that I understand them,
for I, too, am part of the same culture and economy despite being so
against certain aspects of it–it’s what we know, it’s how we’ve always
lived, and it’s enormously difficult to change.

Another quote that I came across
this morning on my bus ride to school is also fitting to my current feelings:

“Do not be too moral.  You may cheat yourself out of much life
so.  Aim above morality.  Be not simply good; be good for something.”

~Henry David Thoreau

As I wrote above, I am not necessarily the wholesome, straightforward
young woman that most people think I am; I make mistakes, I “sin,”
sometimes even intentionally because I’m feeling like I want to break
free from a culture that in many ways holds me down.  But I am not
aimless.  I aim to do good in this world, to minimize my negative
impact and maximize my positive impact.  I aim to love
passionately, in all senses of the word:  romantic, neighborly,
spritual, social.  If there is a meaning to life, it is to love,
for love is what makes us feel;
life is not about going to school, getting a job, buying a house and a
car, having a family and retiring–life can include these things, but
what it is ultimately about is feeling and experiencing.  It’s
about making the most of each moment that is gifted to us by delighting
in ourselves and each other.


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