Either Way Something of Meaning

Posted by Charlie Finn at

When retrospective gaze
spies sense in hitherto presumed nonsense
of blind alley

Do we not at times, looking back on periods in our life when we felt lost and confused, recognize sense emerging from nonsense, meaning emerging from what had felt meaningless? Think back to the weeks, months, maybe even years when it felt we were wandering, squandering, floundering. No waste feels greater than time and effort spent forging a path that ends in a blind alley. How could we have been so clueless? Why didn’t we listen to our own misgivings or that cautionary advice from others? What jackasses for not knowing better, and now having nothing to show for it. Or so it has seemed.

But then we look closer, start to see the silver lining. If we understand ourselves better now, are under fewer illusions now, are clearer now about who we are, what we value in relationships, what direction we want our lives to head in, might not, against all reason, all the prior wrong turns, unwise decisions, futile efforts, failed relationships, and bad luck have mysteriously contributed? Can we not see that the sense we now possess, the meaning we now see, likely would not have, possibly could not have, come to us otherwise? Might we have stumbled along the way, for instance, into something amazing and fruitful? Might someone vital, through all the blundering and missed opportunity, have improbably come into our life for whom we now thank our lucky stars? Not all blind alleys may reveal themselves felicitous, but when we look closer some in fact do. What are we then to make of it?

or dark valley

It is hard to discern meaning in blind alleys, it is harder in dark valleys. Tragedy strikes, hits hard, hits home. Losses multiple, some unbearable. Juice and joy fall from sight, night engulfs light. Even those blessed not to know such when young can’t long keep their innocence. The longer we live the more dark valleys come. Virgil in the Aeneid caught it well with lacrimae rerum, “the tears of things,” which we can neither escape nor really ever “get over.” What we can do is be led by our tears, instructed by our fears, towards a wisdom surpassing understanding. We glimpse, in rare moments perhaps but unquestionably, the meaning in Gibran’s The Prophet, “The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain."

When we step back from our trees to ponder the forest of us, when we come to see in the mystery of things that not only blind alleys but even dark valleys have opened us to meaning we never otherwise would have known, have stretched us to depths of understanding smooth sailing would otherwise have denied us, we are led to a striking conclusion.

the exhilarating conclusion has it

Not only striking but exhilarating! The materialistic paradigm our age is heir to scoffs at the notion of meaning, implying as it does something of spirit. Random violence, chance, absurdity, billiard ball atoms careening willy-nilly, incessant motion without meaning, sound and fury signifying nothing—such is the universe considered nothing but physical matter. Older readers will remember the “fluke” explanation for meaning when it occurs: a thousand monkeys banging away for a thousand years on a thousand typewriters will come up with a chance Macbeth. Baloney, we know better! Whether we look to the awesome evolving universe without or the incredible unfolding universe within, we absolutely see meaning, which leads to one of two exhilarating conclusions.

that either something of Spirit sends by design
even blind alleys and dark valleys

This first, more conventional view is conveyed in such pronouncements of faith as “It was meant to be...Nothing happens by chance...God doesn’t make mistakes...We may not understand the reason for all the seeming accidents of life, for all the chaos and suffering, but we are to trust there is one, to trust we’re in the good hands of a transcendent, all-knowing, all-powerful, all-loving Spirit designing everything for our ultimate betterment.

But for others, looking unflinchingly on the evident existence of often destructive randomness in our personal lives as well as in the life of the cosmos, this conclusion succeeds neither to comfort not to convince. Suffering so horrific—whether the agony be disease unto death of a loved one or the collective horror of a tsunami or an Auschwitz—calls for an understanding of Spirit far removed from a designing external deity, particularly if conceived as loving, sending even catastrophes for a good reason.

or something of Spirit resides spiderlike within
weaving flimsy chance strands
into a web of exquisite meaning.

Consider an option between, on the one hand, stoic acceptance of an absence of meaning in a mechanistic, chance-ridden universe and, on the other, blind faith that a designing hand is behind even appalling tragedy. Consider Spirit, after dreaming the Big Bang into being, as dwelling within the very universe, a Spirit whose quintessential nature it is to create order out of chaos. From the heart of darkness it responds with“Let there be light!” And as this same Spirit is at the heart of us, too, literal children of the universe, we find our nobility when we rise to the call to do likewise. How better to participate in the light-birthing, meaning-creating universe than by creating, when we come upon blind alley or dark valley, a way out of no way, light right smack in the middle of the darkness, meaning where there was none. Exhilarating!

When retrospective gaze
spies sense in hitherto presumed nonsense
of blind alley or dark valley,
the exhilarating conclusion has it
that either something of Spirit sends by design
even blind alleys and dark valleys
or something of Spirit resides spiderlike within
weaving flimsy chance strands
into webs of exquisite meaning.

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