I’ve found the answer I’ve been looking for. I already found the answer years ago, but I’ve got to dig it up every now and again. The question: What’s the meaning of life? The answer: It’s different for everyone, so you’ve got to figure it out. This time, I’m revisiting it in a different context. I’m reading “Not Fade Away: A Short Life Well Lived” by Peter Barton & Laurence Shames and I’ve been tying it with conversations I’ve had with my roommates about a recent death of a former co-worker. In “Not Fade Away”, Peter, who had terminal cancer, writes about coming to terms with his impending death and trying to help everyone’s struggle with their eventual end. In this short excerpt, Peter is suffering through the side-effects of chemotherapy, and he’s complaining to his wife.
One day, when my body was wracked and my head ached and my spirits were at their lowest, I said to my wife: “I just don’t see the point.”
Now, my wife Laura is as supportive and kind as a person could possibly be. I’m in awe of her gentleness. But in that moment she was something other than tender; she was absolutely fierce.
Fierce on my behalf — and, I think, on her own. She still had the determination that I was having such a hard time mustering. She still saw value in the struggle. She wasn’t about to let me wallow. She already had enough burdens; she didn’t want to cater to someone who had given up.
“So find one!” she declared.
I was so surprised by her vehemence that I lost my train of thought. I said, “Huh?”
“You don’t see the point?” she said. “Find a point!”
Looking back, I realize just how important that brief but intense conversation was.
— Peter Barton, Not Fade Away, pages 83 - 84
Peter’s revelation after this incident was there is a separation of the body and mind, something he eventually considers the soul. The body is the physical attachment, one bound by nature to decay and fall apart. The mind can take the role of the body and do the same. However, if we have control over our mind, we don’t have to allow it to decay and rot. We have the ability to not allow it to taint everyone else.
My roommate Mark keeps asking the question, “What’s the point?” while we were all sitting around the backyard fire pit. He follows up with his explanation for why the elderly tend to be mean and grumpy. “They’re in pain all of the time.” While true, the bodies of many elderly people are in pain, many of them allow the pain to get the better of them. When we don’t make this separation of mind and body, we can get terribly depressed.
The best counter example I know of for someone who didn’t let their body’s pain get to their mind was Stuart Scott, ESPN anchor. In the following video, Scott talks about his struggle with cancer and shows us what’s possible when faced with death.
Reading this book, I couldn’t help but well up and cry, get depressed, get overwhelmed by the emotions Peter was going through. And then, it’s followed by hope, knowing that I can make the most out of life. My biggest take-away is not to let this moment slip again and really determine what my own purpose is for my life.