Some couples have a date-night: a night to go out and have fun, like when they were dating. I wouldn’t consider our Friday dinners out a “date-night.” Each Friday, we go out to dinner and unwind a bit from the week. By Friday evening, we’re both pretty drained from the week, don’t have the energy to cook, and just want to get out of the house. It’s really not what anyone would consider a “date-night.”
Often, our conversations at Friday evening dinner are sparse. One of our usual topics of conversation is catching up on what friends we’ve heard from during the week: who’s emailed, called, or posted something interesting on Facebook. This past Friday, we talked about friends who were married about a year and a half ago who just announced that they were having a baby. They seem very excited and both families can’t wait for the first grandchild. Another couple marked their 12th anniversary. Congratulations to them! Another friend was excited about a job promotion. That was more good news.
After a prolonged lull while we ate, our conversation became more philosophical. I know for me it was a reflection of my level of fatigue and frustration from some very routine work. But we wondered out loud: is everyone’s life so very predictable? We have friends all around the world. All of them find happiness in the same things: simple life events like birthdays, anniversaries, new jobs, and minor successes in hobbies or other pursuits. Was it any different for the generations of people before us? No, not really. Will it be any different for the generations that come after us? Probably not. While the people change, the patterns seem to stay the same. How very predictable!
A few millennia ago, this sentiment was captured by one of the writers of the Hebrew scriptures in the book of Ecclesiastes: “Vanity of vanities!” says the preacher. “All things are vanities.” Scholars tell us this wasn’t an original sentiment made by the writer of Ecclesiastes. It was most likely taken from Egyptian literature written centuries before.
In the 20th Century, European existentialists dusted off this same sentiment and wrote about it in terms of life’s absurdity. Generation after generation of people go through the same motions of life, doing the same things: they live and they die, and all they’ve done is lost to decay. Yes, isn’t it absurd? What is the point?
The preacher in Ecclesiastes asked the question in very concrete terms: what benefit is there to work from sunrise to sunset to earn a living and in the end to just grow old and die? It’s a question we don’t like to ask ourselves because it causes us to face the stark reality of our own mortality. The irony of life is that it’s because of our mortality that we have the capacity for something more in life than the limits of very predictable pattern of life events.
On the surface, the course of a person’s life doesn’t seem to really matter. It’s futility. It’s vanity. It’s absurdity. It’s all those things. But yet, in the face of life’s futility, we have the ability to experience and discover something more in our lives. That something more is our ability to experience meaning and purpose in the ordinary events of life.
We have the ability to create meaning in the midst of predictable routines and life events. This seems to be something unique to human beings. It’s the ability to transcend our circumstances and experience something more. What could be more important? Isn’t the grand wonder of life found in the experience of life?
Our experience affords us the opportunity to know deeply and fully what it is to be happy and sad, to feel pleasure and pain, to know love and emptiness. It’s truly amazing. While the events of life appear to be very similar from one person to the next, from generation to generation, what’s unique is the inner dialogue of experience that provides us the opportunity to find something more than we could ever imagine from things that are predictable and so very ordinary. Indeed, that’s something of the gift of life. What a gift it is!
Again, this Friday, we’ll go out for dinner. We’ll be tired and drained from the week. We’ll talk about friends but probably mostly eat in silence. It’s not a date-night. No, it’s something better. It’s the comfort of sharing intimately with another, of being in sync with each other. It’s simple, but it’s a gift. It’s part of the rich experience of the gift of life.
© 2013, emerging by Lou Kavar, Ph.D.. All rights reserved.