Issue #204 / September 2022
What is the point in life?
BEAU, ESSEX, ENGLAND
To understand the point in life we must first understand what it is to be human. It seems to me that the common agent that binds us all together is loss, and so the point in life must be measured in relation to that loss. Our individual losses can be small or large. They can be accumulations of losses barely registered on a singular level, or full-scale cataclysms. Loss is absorbed into our bodies from the moment we are cast from the womb until we end our days, subsumed by it to become the essence of loss itself. We ultimately become the grief of the world, having collected countless losses through our lifetime. These losses are many-faceted and chronic, both monstrous and trivial. They are losses of dignity, losses of agency, losses of trust, losses of spirit, losses of direction or faith, and, of course, losses of the ones we love. They are daily, convulsive disappointments or great historical injuries that cast their shadows across the human predicament, reminding us of the stunning potential of our own loss of humanity. We are capable of the greatest atrocities and the deepest sufferings, all culminating in a vast, collective grief. This is our shared condition.
Yet happiness and joy continue to burst through this mutual condition. Life, it seems, is full of an insistent, systemic and irrepressible beauty. But these moments of happiness are not experienced alone, rather they are almost entirely relational and are dependent on a connection to the Other – be it people, or nature, or art, or God. This is where meaning establishes itself, within the connectedness, nested in our shared suffering.
I believe we are meaning-seeking creatures, and these feelings of meaning, relational and connective, are almost always located within kindness. Kindness is the force that draws us together, and this, Beau, is what I think I am trying to say – that despite our collective state of loss, and our potential for evil, there exists a great network of goodness, knitted together by countless everyday human kindnesses.
These often small, seemingly inconsequential acts of kindness, that Soviet writer Vasily Grossman calls ‘petty, thoughtless kindness’, or ‘unwitnessed kindness’ bind together to create a subterranean and vanquishing Good that counterbalances the forces of evil and prevents suffering from overwhelming the world. We reach out and find each other in the common darkness. By doing so we triumph over our collective and personal loss. Through kindness we slant, shockingly and miraculously, toward meaning. We discover, in that smallest gesture of goodwill laid at the feet of our mutual and monumental loss, ‘the point‘.