Spoiler alert: I’m about to reveal the meaning of life. Great, now I have your attention—read on if you want the answer.
Every so often I think about the movie City Slickers when Jack Palance’s character, the older, leathery cowboy named Curly gives Billy Crystal’s character Mitch some profound life advice.
“Do you know what the secret of life is?” Curly asks Mitch, holding up one finger.
“Your finger?” Mitch asks.
“One thing,” Curly says. “Just one thing…”
“But what is the one thing?” Mitch wants to know.
“That’s what you have to find out,” the cowboy replies.
What Curly said stuck with me since I saw that movie way back in junior high. And I’ve been trying to find that “one thing” ever since. It’s something we each have to discover for ourselves.
A while back, I heard a moving sermon by a rabbi who had faced a near-death experience. After wrestling with his own mortality and living to tell about it, the rabbi asked us what we each think our life’s purpose is. What, he asked, were we put on this earth to do?
I’ve pondered my answers to the questions posed by the rabbi, and—no big shocker—I haven’t exactly figured out all the answers just yet.
But, if we already knew the answers, how boring would that be? Life is all about the journey—continually searching for the answers, and then revising and finding new answers to what we thought we knew but realized we totally didn’t. At least I think.
You know that game show Are You Smarter Than a Fifth Grader? Well, in a philosophical way, the answer to that question is “no” because the adage “the older we get, the less we know” rings true.
What if we don’t narrow it down to just “one thing” as Curly said? Maybe we’re meant to find more than one thing.
Here’s one thing I do know: We’re all meant for greatness. We’re meant to fulfill multiple roles as complicated, interesting people—in our jobs, as parents, as sons and daughters, as romantic partners, as citizens of the world, as Jews, and as all around decent human beings.
For instance, here’s what I know about myself: I’m meant to honor my parents as the Torah tells me to by being the best daughter I know how to be. I’m meant to be the world’s coolest aunt to my nephews and spoil them with toys—and lots of love. I’m meant to be a friend that my friends can count on who would take their calls at 3 a.m. and talk them through a crisis, or dance to 80s music with them; and I’m meant to write it all down in blogs and columns like this one.
And when I don’t live up to some of these things, and I know sometimes I fall short, I’m meant to do a little better the next time around.
Oprah used to preach on her talk show that the one thing everyone wants is to matter. Whoever we are, whatever our race, religion, gender, age, or job, we all want to be useful, to make a contribution. That’s one of our greatest equalizers.
So as we encounter one another, from the people we love, and even the people we don’t like so much, to strangers on the street, we ought to be gentler with each other. We should keep in mind that we’re all just trying to matter, to leave our imprint on the world, to know that the world is a better place because we’re in it.