What Would You Give For Your Heart’s Desire?

The Kiss by Gustav Klimt OSA211

What is precious to you? What do you want to get or to see or to do? What would you give for love, glory, money, or time?

Anything? Well, here is a little game to play. It won’t take long. Or, I should say, it will take no longer than you want it to.

What would you give for any item on this list? The form of payment is, in most cases, up to you. Perhaps you would beg or borrow or steal to get your heart’s desire. But the “payment” must be equal to the value that you assign to the thing you want.

Choose wisely!

  1. A ticket in the best possible location for your favorite team’s championship game.
  2. Being able to relive the best day of your life.
  3. A cure for cancer available to the whole world.
  4. A day in the body of the person you’d most like to be, with all the abilities of that person.
  5. One less year in your life with the guarantee that you would be the wealthiest individual on earth for all the remaining years.
  6. To be sexually irresistible to those you most desire.
  7. A change in the one physical feature you like least about yourself.
  8. World peace.
  9. The health of those you love.
  10. The love of the person from whom you most wish it, whether it be a romantic partner or a parent or a sibling or a child.
  11. Contentment. That is, perfect acceptance of whatever is your situation in life.
  12. Freedom from your conscience.
  13. A definitive answer as to whether heaven exists and what it consists of, if it does exist.
  14. Immortality (in this life) in a body that would never age beyond the age you wish.
  15. A chance to do one thing over — go back to that moment with all you now know and try again.
  16. The infallible insight as to whether people are telling the truth; to see through every deception, no matter how big or small. Tough Choice
  17. The ability to do one thing you can’t do any more.
  18. The gift of living in the moment.
  19. Fame.
  20. The ability to remember every second of every day of your life.
  21. The capacity to forget anything that you wish to set aside in your past.
  22. The talent to produce at least one masterpiece of art, music, or literature.
  23. Great recognition during your lifetime that will not endure after it ends; or recognition that will come only posthumously.
  24. To be the best possible parent.
  25. To have a job that you can’t wait to get to each morning; one that produces complete fulfillment in doing the work itself, not because of what you produce or the compensation or recognition you receive for it.
  26. To be the author of a great scientific discovery.
  27. A life that allows you to see all of the most beautiful places in the world.
  28. The gift of being a great teacher.
  29. Loyal and loving friends.
  30. A partner who provides you with the most sexually satisfying times imaginable for as long as you both live.
  31. The experience of living in a drug induced state of fantasy, such that you would have the imaginary experience of anything your mind could envision, even though none of it would be real.
  32. The knowledge, in the last possible moment of your life, that you have followed the path suggested in Micah 6:8: “To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”

As you might have noticed, some of these things may actually be available to you at no cost; other than effort and, perhaps, a bit of luck. But, many of them are mutually exclusive, as you’ve probably also observed: you can’t have them all.

Life is a little like a birthday card I’ve seen. On the front it shows a picture of a beautiful woman:

Beautiful-Woman-2048x2048

And then, a picture of a birthday cake. It reads something like this: “This is Edith and this is your cake. You have to choose one, because…”

256px-"_12_-_ITALY_-_birthday_cake_with_candles_4

“You can’t have your cake and Edith, too!”

The top painting is a detail from The Kiss by Gustav Klimt. The second image represents a Tough Choice; the third is a photo called Birthday Cake by Francesca Cesa Bianchi, Milan, 2002. The last of these was sourced from Wikimedia Commons.

The Meaning of Life is…

Thoughtful people since the beginning of time have looked for the answer to the biggest question of all: what is the meaning of life? But recently I’ve begun to wonder whether perhaps it is the wrong question. The existentialists have long suggested that it is our job, each of us, to find our own meaning. But even if you believe in the idea that we must take responsibility for the one life that we have and view it as a creative act, to make what we can of it, I’m still not convinced that the question is the best one available.

What then might be a better question? The question I’m thinking of is, what are the meanings of a life, the purposes to which one puts that life? In other words, the meaning of a life, its target or goal, would be viewed as a changeable and changing thing, not just different from one individual to another as the existentialists suggest, but different depending upon the moment that the question is asked of any single life. It might be one thing when you are 15 and quite another when you are 50, still another at 75.

But first let us consider very briefly the answers to the original question, what is the meaning of life? One could go on at length about the various “isms: hedonism, stoicism, and so forth. I will not do this. Others know more about them and have already discussed them at great length. Still, one must give a nod in the direction of the meaning of life being the simple biological fact of procreation, continuing the human race. The religious might argue that the will of God for each individual as the meaning for that particular person, along with doing honor to God’s law. Then there are those who believe that life is intended to increase one’s understanding and knowledge, or to have the maximal amount of pleasure, or to perfect oneself by fulfilling your innate talents and capacities, or to make the world a better place than you found it, or quite simply to love in a deep and abiding fashion.

But, my current thought is that there is no single meaning for all persons, but changing meanings as we grow up and age. Early-on, the meaning of our lives is perhaps to be found in discovering what we can do, who we are, and mastering the extraordinary number of things any little person has to learn just to get out the door and off to school. Not far into the process one must determine how to relate to people, how to honor yourself without disrespecting others, figuring out where you stand in the pecking order of athletic, intellectual, and social competition. Discovering one’s vocation must be on the list, since most of us take so much meaning from what we do for a living, be it as a captain of industry, a scholar, a salesperson, or parent. All the better if what we do for a living provides a sense of fulfillment, creativity, acknowledgment, accomplishment, and growth.

Meaning is to be found in a life-partner too, in love, in family, in raising a child, and in risking your heart. And over time, friendships, especially if they are life-long, have great value and define us as people and as members of a tiny group of two or more friends or part of a community, pulling-together to do something worthwhile.

In war-time, loyalty, comradeship, and courage take special meaning; even to the point that, a few years before World War II, the Japanese government proclaimed loyalty as essential to the national morality. And, in the war itself, the idea of behaving honorably in the face of certain death, never allowing himself to be captured, guided the Japanese soldier and gave meaning to his service. Emperor, country, and comrades counted for a lot; even the importance of family sometimes diminished in the heat of battle, by comparison, when it was necessary to steel one self against the terror of combat.

Under less severe circumstances, learning is something that gives purpose as we work to understand ourselves and the human condition, as well as particular things about the world. Later on in life, for many people comes a certain generosity of spirit, a desire to help those who are coming after us, to lend a hand. And the shortness of time contributes to intensity of feeling, making the beauty of the earth, a smile, a song, an act of kindness, or an embrace all the more touching because we know that before too long, the sweetness of life will no longer be ours to savor.

Having taken all this time on the question I’ve raised, I think there is danger in spending too much time on trying to answer the question, “What is the meaning of life? If one has learned anything from life itself, it is that the time is precious and waiting in contemplation for a revelation of what we should do risks squandering the time we have. But most of us are comforted by a sense of direction, and one should try to determine what is of value, and to conform one’s behavior to what is important and worthy of effort and time. Indeed, mindfulness and commitment-based psychotherapies work very hard to encourage the person to become detached from things that are not important, and instead to focus him on his values and how to “live” them.

There is worth, then, in simply knowing that the clock is ticking and that the day is short; but only if that knowledge creates a sense of urgency in you and the desire to make the most of the time.

As John Donne wrote so long ago:

“Therefore, send not to know

For whom the bell tolls,

It tolls for thee.”