Meaning Amongst Absurdity

“Hey Tom, have you ever thought about the joke our awareness plays on us?”

“What’s that, Dave?”

“Our superior intellect makes us aware of our inevitable death but we have an intense desire for continued existence and because of our intellect we recognize the futility of that quest.”

“Well Dave, what I want is to create some meaning in my life for as long as I live.”

“Yes Tom, so do I. We live in absurdity so we need some meaning.”

“What do you mean, we live in absurdity?”

“Consider this: Why do we stand in line at the store? To buy food. Why do we buy food? So we can stay alive and healthy. Why stay alive and healthy? So we can work at our jobs. Why work? So we can earn money. Why earn money? So we can buy food. The vicious circle is ABSURD!”

“That’s funny, Dave.”

“Not so funny when you consider how we are like a hamster in a wheel cage. Round and round we go. The whole circle is a meaningless ritual rather than something coherent and self-fulfilling.”

“I guess another example of absurdity would be: We get up to go to work. Four hours later we have lunch. Then back to work. Then go home for supper and sleep.”

“Yes Tom, this cycle goes on Monday through Friday all at the same rhythm. But one fine day the “WHY” of it overcomes us.”

We both pondered for a minute.

“So, the absurdity of routine life hits us like a ton of bricks. What do we do?

We have to provide our own meaning in our lives.”

“What are some of the ways we can provide that meaning?”

“Well Tom, we all want to be happy, and I think there are 4 roads to meaningful lives which would create a happy background for us as an enduring condition.”

“What are the 4 roads, Dave?”

“I will list them and then we can discuss them individually. Helping others, becoming successful, seize the day, and freeing the mind. None of these elements is the last word on life’s meaning but they can be a framework for us to construct a worthwhile life. So Tom, what do you think about helping others as a means to meaning?’

“Well Dave, helping others would allow us to break free of the pointless cycle of eating to live, living to work and working to eat. We could escape the narrow concerns of our own private lives by helping people outside of our private existence. But, I wonder if there is something egotistical about it when helping others becomes a means of helping ourselves feel good.”

“Very good point, Tom. Altruism helps the person being helped and also it benefits the helper.”

“I think helping others is one way to give us a sense of purpose but there are other ways too.”

“ The feel good factor is indicative of a sort of claustrophobic life when a person is wrapped up in their own little world their horizons are restricted. When you help others it’s an escape from this narrow focus, to one which makes us feel good as well as the people we help.”

“Right on Tom, helping others is NOT the end all of the meaning of life itself. But it is tied to it because it’s one of the GOOD things in life.”

We both took a minute to savor our discussion on Helping Others.

“What about our desire to be successful and achieve as an element of the meaning of life?”

“Dave, I think we crave success because we think it will make us happy.”

“I think it goes beyond that, Tom. There are two ways of viewing success, one concentrates on the importance of having done certain things. Man is the sum of his actions.

The other view is becoming a certain kind of person. The outward signs of success are merely the visible evidence of a more important inner transformation.”

“I get it Dave, what matters is the becoming, the development of oneself to its full potential, not the job that goes with it.”

“There is a link between the doing and the becoming. What matters is to become who we become by doing what we do.”

“I think I have it Dave, to develop ourselves through achievement gives us some meaning. If you pursue your passion, no matter what recognition you get, should be seen as a success.”

“So Tom, what about, “living for today”, to give us meaning?”

“You’re talking about “carpe diem”, seize the day, aren’t you?”

“That’s right, my friend, you and I are mortal, we are trapped in the PRESENT and we could die at any moment, so we must try to make the most of our present.”

“The amateur philosopher’s version of seize the day is simple hedonism, party on, the pursuit of pleasure,” said Tom, soberly.

“Tom, if we interpret “living for today” as a call to party continually, then it is an inadequate law to live by, this is NOT the only way to understand what carpe diem means.”

“So Dave, what is the true spirit of carpe diem?”

“What we value in life: relationships, learning, creativity, food, travel, interesting hobbies—the call to seize the day is a call to appreciate these things while we can and not put them off. You don’t have to experience everything now, but we must make every day count.”

“I get it Dave, we don’t want to put off doing today what can be done today.”

“The wisdom of carpe diem is that our TIME is SHORT and we should not squander it. Carpe diem is NOT only about pleasure but having satisfaction in your present.”

Tom and I remained silent for a few minutes pondering what we had discussed.

“Now, my friend, we come to the last element of gaining meaning in your life—freeing your mind and losing yourself. What do you know about that, Tom?”

“Lets see Dave, I think freeing the mind means Chill Out and let go of your ego. This means that the “I” becomes unimportant. Attune yourself to nature and stop thinking so much about things.”

“That’s a good point Tom, but remember what Descartes said: “I think therefore I am”. If this is true then the idea of detaching ourselves from our egos is false, because the self is the most certain feature of reality.”

“So, freeing your mind by losing yourself is NOT a satisfactory way of finding meaning in your life,” said Tom, scratching his head.

“If you stop to think about it, permanently losing a sense of self is otherwise known as Death!”

“Wow, that’s a sobering thought,” said Tom, wide eyed.

“Thinking is good, assessing ideas through rational argument, it is the best way of examining ideas.”

“Well Tom, in conclusion to this discussion, some of the elements we talked about might provide some contentment and satisfaction BUT there is NO last word on the subject.”

“So Dave, we can say that our life can be worthwhile if we have a balance of happiness and concern for others, where time is NOT wasted and we are successful in terms of pursuing our interests.”

“Right on, Tom, the sobering truth is that life is a continuing struggle and time is so fleeting.”

“I’ve often thought of how time flies and it sends shivers up my spine.”

“Well Tom, time carries us from a PAST we cannot revisit to a FUTURE we cannot know. It is the basic experience of our live. Time dictates the direction of travel, trapping us in our PRESENT as it takes us from the PAST to the FUTURE.”

“So Dave, we ask the question, “What’s it all about?” and we see that there are many ways in which life can be meaningful.”

“Well buddy, as a member of the “Oldie Club” I am worn out by this discussion and by the time we learn to make the most of life, the greater part of it is GONE!”

With that, Tom and Dave walked out into the sunshine SMILING.


“Hey Tom, do you realize our memory is resilient but also very fragile?”

“Yes, I’ve heard that is so, Dave.”

“It’s so scary though Tom, when you think that everything we do or say depends upon the smooth operation of our memory system. Any form of memory loss would be tragic.”

“It’s scary, alright, they say aging inevitably brings a decline in memory, just when I like to reminisce about the past.”

“Yes Tom, memories are about the past. That’s why time seems to speed up for us oldies, we have more past than future.”

We shifted on our green padded stools.

“I think we need bigger stools, Dave.”

We both laughed.

“They say memory is unreliable, why is that, Dave?”

“The past is fixed, BUT: Every time you recall a memory it is changed because every time you “see” the memory in a different light, a different perspective. It no longer means exactly what it meant at the time of the original memory.”

“That’s interesting Dave, I didn’t realize that.”

“Tom, here’s a curious fact about memory: In looking to the past, you realize you may NOT have access to the original memory because you cannot possibly recover the PERSPECTIVE you had at the time.”

“Very interesting, I’m learning so much today.”

“Let me tell you a story:

I remember a row with my father when I was 13 years old. He worked nights so I hardly ever saw him. I wanted him to go on the day shift so he could be a regular father to me like the other kids had. I also wanted him to show more interest in me. I looked at that dispute as a TRIUMPH for my arguments.

In looking back now, I feel SHAME. I had no feeling for my father’s point of view, what motivated him and what his aspirations were. Maybe he was dissatisfied with his life.

Now being older, my perspective on that event has altered, from TRIUMPH to SHAME!”

“Oh boy, Dave, that story is food for thought.”

“Tom, do you have any similar stories?”

“Yes I do, but it’s a long one.”

“Oh well, put it in a reply on my blog and I will read it later.”

“I was thinking, Dave, about how my mind flits from the past to the present to the future and back again. It’s strange.”

“You probably think more about the past because it has “pictures”. The present is so fleeting that you don’t realize you’re thinking about it because it’s significance is so fleeting.”

“Dave, here’s a fact I read, a 70 year old knows what it’s like to be 20, whereas

A 20 year old has no idea what it is like to be 70!”

“That’s the asymmetries of life. I like that word: Asymmetries.”

“Tom, did you know that Old Age is the longest life stage?”

“No Dave, I didn’t.”

“The stages of youth—Baby, infant, toddler, child, adolescent, young adult, approximately a 21 year span. But you are in none of these stages for long.

According to the actuaries, you will be old for 25-30 years.”

“That’s amazing, BUT: the thing that bothers me lately is forgetting.

Every once in awhile I struggle to find the right word. The worry is not so much being unable to find the right word as the knowledge that I know it!”

“I know, it’s frustrating but I’ve learned that autobiographical memory is the most susceptible to disruption, distortion or loss.”

We were silent for a minute.

“Hey Tom, my mouth is getting dry, lets order another beer.”

We both drank a quarter of our pints at once, we were so dry!

“So, lets recap: No matter what the cause of memory loss, the consequences are a disaster, much of what has been acquired and learned is gone. The person with anterograde memory loss, loses the ability to store new experiences in a way that can be recalled. His future is wiped out while he is alive.

A person with retrograde memory loss, the past has been erased or rendered in accessible, the person they once were with abilities, talents and character traits has vanished!”


“Hey Dave, do you live in the past? This question was asked of me. It implies that my present is so impoverished that I must take refuge in the comfort of my idealized memories. In other words, I am a “poor thing.”

“Maybe Tom, us oldies should embark on a review of our lives. What do you think?”

“Sounds interesting Dave, because as we age, one becomes preoccupied with “Who One Is” rather than “What One Does.”

“Yes Tom, with the life review you want to recap what themes and events helped to define you as a UNIQUE person. It’s a reminiscence-based process of coming to terms with one’s life.”

“Hey Dave, I remember a lot about my adolescence and young adulthood. Why, I wonder?”

“Well Tom, my friend, it’s because the events in these two periods define us, our identity, our place in the world. These two periods provide us with our CORE adult story that we carry around with us, largely unchanged, for our life.”

“Dave, do you look at old family photos?”

“Yes Tom, my old photos serve as cues to my autobiographical recollections. My photos allow me to make contact with, and even relive, parts of my personal past.”

We finished our beers.

“In conclusion, I maintain that memories of our past make us “poor things” into story tellers. And the stories we tell are potent determinants of how we view ourselves.”

“Well there’s certainly lots of ideas to mull over:

You can judge your age by the amount of pain you feel when you come in contact with a new idea.”

Tom and Dave have left the building!