You may wonder what kind of a cocky, all-that-and-a-side-of-hash browns attitude made me ever think I’d be eulogized to national fanfare, but in my idealistic teen-twenty-something years, where all the world’s an oyster to be saved from a red tide, I thought/believed/hoped/wanted to do something “important” in my life. Like cure AIDS hand-in-hand with Bono. End genocide. Stop the illegal sex trade. Me and a cape and a rousing speech. Sure, some of the motivation was to be known (what is it with us humans and the drive for fame?), but really, I wanted to be on the news when I died because I had done something good in the world. Something significant. In a big way.
Round about twenty-six, I realized this was not going to happen. I didn’t have the connections, didn’t have the skill set, and didn’t have quite the right cape, to dramatically create what I considered “real” change. That if I wasn’t going to do something that helped a lot of people, then what was the point? Once I fully digested that knowledge, I felt I’d failed my purpose for existence. Moreover, even if I say, solved global warming with Bubbalicious, a paperclip, metal filings and gumption, 200 years from now, I still would not be anywhere close to timeless. In hindsight, I know this sounds like a ton of hubris. Well meaning, but cocky as hell none-the-less.
All this navel-gazey, existential stream of consciousness is Richard III’s fault. Or rather, those who buried him. If you hadn’t heard, it was confirmed this week that the last Plantagenet king of England’s remains were found buried under a car-park in the middle of London. Here he is, flipping King of flipping England during one of the most tumultuous times of English history (again, see the remarkable Alison Weir on the War of the Roses) and give us a couple hundred years and we’ve paved his not so paradise and put up a parking lot. This would be akin to Americans finding President Lincoln under a Beltway on-ramp. And I don’t say this to disparage the Brits, rather to point out how even the mightiest of mighty fall to the wayside. As the book of Ecclesiastes laments, “Utterly meaningless! Everything is meaningless.’ No one remembers the former generations. And even those yet to come will not be remembered by those who follow them.”
The writer of Ecclesiastes, (“Qoheleth,” for those studying at home) searches high and low to find the ultimate meaning of life, bashing his head against walls in angst over how rain falls on the righteous and the unrighteous and that no matter who we are or how we live our lives we are ultimately dust under the pavement. Is life about more than our number of Facebook followers, Twitter tweep count, or Klout scores? Or whether or not Brian Williams will guide the nation in mourning us?
Instead of popping the Prozac, Qoheleth concludes this:
“A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil. I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil...this is the gift of God.”
Since we’ll all be paved over eventually, why not embrace our insignificance? “Doing good while we live” isn’t about being significant in the eyes of the world. Because the eyes of the world are fickle, quickly bored, and greedy with concrete. Ultimately, if we can’t find satisfaction and reward from even the most mundane in our lives, life, most of it being mundane, will pass us by. Finally and thankfully, I’ve realized that life itself – the humble beauty of a full belly and good company and an honest day’s work – is all the significance I need.
What about you? How do you define significance? What in your life do you most find satisfaction in? How do you wish to be remembered?