So, for 17 years I tried to find the meaning of life.
It was a bad 17 years. I felt the weight of the world on my shoulders. I was a self-described pessimist. Cynical. Critical. Sarcastic.
The good times were when I was sure that there WAS a meaning of life, but was frustrated by my inability to grasp it. At least I had a bit of hope.
The bad times were when I was convinced that life was a sham with no meaning, no purpose. There was no God. There was no life after death. Life was just one big joke.
I remember thinking, “I don’t know what the meaning of life is, but I know it’s not THAT!” – meaning, not the Catholic Church. I was raised Catholic, but felt it was all about checking the blocks: 1) Go to church on Sunday…CHECK. 2) Go to confession once a year…hmmm…sometimes? 3) Don’t eat meat on Friday…CHECK. 4) Get married in the church…CHECK. 5) Try to follow the Golden Rule…CHECK. 6) Raise kids Catholic to check the same blocks…wellll….
And here’s where my cynicism and angst met a most formidable foe: my maternal instinct.
Holding a new life in my arms, I made a solemn pledge to myself to do whatever was in his best interests no matter the sacrifice. I would protect him from harm. I would give him every advantage and opportunity I could afford. I would develop his talents. I would challenge his mind.
If money were tight, I would wear old shoes and ripped winter coats.
If food were scarce, I would eat scraps so he would have a nutritious meal.
And so, my decision to breastfeed.
And so, my great anxiety at putting him in daycare because I couldn’t afford to stop working.
And so, my decision to scrimp and save to get out of debt so I could afford to stop working.
And so, my decision to homeschool.
But what about religion?
Of course I would raise him Catholic. I always thought I would raise my children in the faith I and my husband were raised, more from a perspective of discipline than true faith. But if I want what is BEST for my child, doesn’t my child deserve the best “religion” whatever that may be.
And an even scarier thought that developed through a long argument with myself: Let’s suppose that there is one true God. Let’s suppose that God established rules for us to follow with consequences for failure and rewards for success. Let’s suppose that there is life after death and following God allows you to spend eternity in “heaven” and rejecting God means you spend eternity in “hell.” If all this is true…where am I going?
Well, does God have a yardstick? Does God have scales of Justice? If there are rules, am I following them?
If I had only myself to worry about, then I might hope for a death-bed conversion. Live my life the way I want to, and then change when death became near (at least hope to be able to). But now I had a child to worry about. I’m not stupid. I know that the choices I make will affect my children their whole lives.
Bigots beget bigots.
Criminals beget criminals.
Cynics beget cynics.
Do I want my child to be a cynic like me?
Misery loves company. But I’ve never wished for anyone else to suffer as I did while I searched for meaning to life. Do I want my children to suffer like that?
Of course not.
By the way, I don’t think the child of a bigot is pre-destined to become a bigot…everyone has the opportunity to break free from the influences of their upbringing. But we all have a hard time dealing with those shackles. What shackles do I intend to put on my child?
Joy. Peace. Charity. Faith. Hope.
So, I really decided that my quest for the meaning of life had to become the most important thing in my life. What good is the best education for my child, if my lack of faith condemned him to a life without a higher meaning and possibly condemned him to eternal hell?
Now if all those assumptions I laid out were wrong – for example, if there was no life after death – then so what? Yeah, I suppose life might be “more fun” if there were no eternal consequences, and I suppose I and my progeny might live our lives striving for something that was all a lie. Horrors. But really? If faith in God led Mother Teresa to sacrifice so greatly to help the poor, was this really a waste? Can one not objectively state that her life, regardless of her eternal reward, was a wonderful life? She had no fancy clothes, no TV, no silk sheets for her bed…but she had joy and love.
Shortly before he dies, Moses asks the Israelites: which do you choose: life or death? I choose life!
OK, but that was when I was 27. I didn’t “find the rosetta stone” until I was 29. What took so long?
Duty calls. More another time.