THROUGH THE FIRE: The Meaning of Life

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By SHARON YAMATO
(First published in
The Rafu Shimpo on May 4, 2011.)

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Whenever I have a little time on my hands with no pressing deadlines or immediate goals, I turn into a restless slug. I lie in bed much longer than I should be lying in bed. It takes all the energy I can muster to get up and brush my teeth.  I spend way too much time thinking about what I’m going to be eating next.  I resort to watching crap programs on TV (yes, I’m sorry to admit I’m back with “Dancing with the Stars,” even though I gave it up last season because of that awful Bristol Palin).

Lately, I’ve also resorted to regularly checking the news feed on my Facebook page, living vicariously through the exploits and daily wanderings of all my friends, convinced that their lives are way much more interesting than mine.

And to make matters worse, up pop those nagging questions I like to keep buried in the recesses of my mind, like “Where will I be in ten years?” “Have I accomplished anything worthwhile?” or “Why can’t I be as successful as so-and-so or as popular as you-know-who?”

It’s times like these that I understand why people become workaholics or momaholics, or just keep moving – all to avoid thinking. I’ve never quite figured out how busy women are able to balance families and careers (and there are so many accomplished ones that do), when I have a hard time balancing my checkbook. I do know that as long as you’re busy, you don’t have to think about The Meaning of Life. There are more important things to worry about — such as getting your kid into the best school, planning a great dinner for those important guests, or just trying to survive rush hour traffic.

I used to think that career issues were important for people in their 20s and 30s, and that by your 40s, you had settled into work that you had gone to college all those years for and that you hopefully enjoyed. Little did I know that turning 60 would present the worst career issues ever.  Rounding the corner on retirement, I often wonder how I can spend my next years to (1) make money; (2) keep busy; and, most important, (3) feel satisfied.

During the past few years, I’ve had the thrill of life accomplishments that I would have hoped could last just a little longer. But that familiar actor’s adage, “You’re only as good as your last picture,” now seems to apply to everyone and everything. Yep, I’ve even heard it said, “You’re only as good as your last haircut”!

It usually takes death for us to learn to appreciate life, especially when we look at those around us who have passed on (which, by the way, have been far too numerous during the last few months). Monty Python presented a grim vision of Death in its take on “The Meaning of Life” — a tall, hollowed face, dark clothed, caped guy carrying the all-too-sharp scythe (think Ingmar Bergman movies). I prefer to look upon Death as a happy-go-lucky guy who is trying to get across the point that we should be grateful for all that we have in life.After all, if there were no death, would life have much meaning? Gandhi told us to “live as if you were to die tomorrow.” And isn’t it nice that as we all get closer to life’s ultimate destination, it gets easier and easier to think that way?

I recently attended a memorial service for someone who I think grappled and came to terms with the Meaning of Life. My old Sunday school teacher, Ted Tajima, though not considered a famous name, renowned writer, or even a prominent public figure, lived his life with such dignity, passion and grace that he left an indelible mark. I think it could be said that Ted was a simple man, especially in retirement, though his influence on the journalism students he taught at Alhambra High, not to mention anyone who knew him, was more than profound.

At his memorial service, family and friends produced a beautiful book aptly titled, “A Life Well Lived.” In it, he describes a week in that special life (which I hope his family doesn’t mind my including here):

“It was actually a day, Monday, when I had the good fortune of attending a Keith Jarrett concert at glittery, aluminum Disney Hall in downtown LA. I had never heard of Keith Jarrett but by the end of his concert, he became a highly ranked luminary in my listing of pianists … I’ll bet he can bang the keyboard with his fist, then go on to compose a piano concerto for left fist in E-flat major … The end of the week was today, and I had the pleasant opportunity of having lunch with you, Scott, your mom and Holly. Lunch was fine; the company was greater. Seeing you made my week complete, one to remember. Please continue to brighten my day, my week, my month, my year. And if you’re still reading this, thanks for your patience and enduring love.”

As I read Ted’s words, I am reminded that it’s not tangible achievement or monetary success that gives meaning to life. It’s music, awe, inspiration, good company, and most of all, enduring love.

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Sharon Yamato writes from Playa del Rey. Opinions expressed in this column are not necessarily those of The Rafu Shimpo.

 

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3 Comments

  1. I think you’re exactly right! Meaning is not in the tangible achievement itself but in the ripples that it creates, the impacts, both one others and ourselves.

    Why do you think that so many “just keep moving”? Are we afraid of the answers or not finding an answer or, does it just take too much effort to pursue difficult questions in life? I’m so curious about this because many live this way and many are deeply unsatisfied. It’s not like they have to wait to retire before they can be satisfied with their life 🙂

  2. It does take death many times for us to fully appreciate life. I have been through cancer on two separate occasions and never before have I had such a gratitude for the magnificence of life. Thank you for sharing – it is always nice to be reminded of what really matters.

  3. Pingback: THROUGH THE FIRE: The Meaning of Life | Ted K Tajima

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