If you haven’t read the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, you should — then you’ll get the joke…
Students often enter my courses looking for some kind of definitive answer as to the meaning of life — and I’ll tell you that philosophers look for it in a variety of ways too, but while we think we’ve made progress I think we shouldn’t be any more sure of that than we are of many other things.
I’m 43 — my family lives a long, long time so I’m probably not even half way finished with my life. Perhaps I’m close, but Grandma is 95, so I may have at least 5 more years until I’m half-way done. The result of this is that I’ve had some life, but I have a lot more to go.
I’ve had many challenges — cancer, the death of a parent and a sibling (separate, but both difficult), a divorce and a Ph.D. — all of which were traumatic but also learning experiences. In many ways my thinking about life is getting less complex as I live more of it — In general, I think that you can either let bad sh*t crush you or you can learn from it and move on. Each time you seem to put a significant “before ” and “after” __________ is a learning experience.
So far I’ve learned a lot about what I need and want in my daily life. I want some time to relax and reflect, some time to think and some time to laugh. I want to surround myself with people who help me do that and I try to avoid people who have agendas that don’t match up with one of those very broad categories. I want to appreciate the small goodness in friends and strangers alike and when someone does something nice for me, no matter how small, I want to say “thank you” — this last one is an example of a larger lesson that cancer taught me, you never know what problems are under other peoples’ clothes — meaning, you don’t know what a stranger is struggling with — so why not give them a break.
Does all of this mean that I’m somehow perfect, far from it. My students will say I’m slow to grade — and they’re right. My mom may say I don’t call her often enough — true — and my partner would probably like it if I was more of a neat freak — which I should be — but, I am who I am and it’s just the case that you need to love me for who I am.
Underlying all of this is a very human process of making goals, pursuing them, achieving them and making new goals. It seems to me that if you are active in this way, you’ll have lived your life in a good way and when death comes it will be sad because your last set of goals are unfulfilled — but, your life will also be something for others to celebrate and learn from — and in that way you will make a lasting impression.