Sunday, April 13, 2008

What’s It All About, Mark?

Several weeks ago, I connected with a friend and former colleague after more than a two year absence. When she responded to my e-mail asking how she was, she told me about her 48 year old brother who had died suddenly of a heart attack several months ago. She gave some of the details and concluded her story with the line, “What’s it all about, Mark?” Her question was particularly poignant because her work and life, from an external view, are filled with success and meaning. Her question brought up a couple of things worth considering.

The first is that her inquiry and the related questions of “Why am I here”” and “What meaning does my life have?” are profoundly human questions that we all grapple with at various times in our lives. Are they challenging questions? Yes. So tough, in fact, that many of us choose to deal with them only when forced to during times of duress, pain, or crisis. Do they have certain, final answers? No. And this makes many of us feel lost or life has little or no meaning because we can’t find answers to them.

I understand the need to answer life’s “big” questions, but it’s important to remember that it is in the asking and the struggle with the questions themselves where our sense of significance comes from. Virtually all spiritual traditions remind us that the questions can never fully be answered, but we can choose to engage them with our full being. As the poet Ranier Maria Rilke said, “Be patient with all that is unsolved in your heart. Try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms and like books that are written in foreign tongues . . . . Live the questions raw.”

The second thing that came up for me is the importance of staying connected and just how challenging that can be. We get so busy and caught up in the urgencies and dramas of the day that we simply forget about the importance and power of our connections with others. In moments of quiet we think, “I should call or e-mail so and so,” and the thought passes, time passes, and before we know it, we have lost contact with the very people who add richness and meaning to our lives. In more pragmatic terms, job and career transitions are much easier and smoother if we stay connected to the important people in our lives. Perhaps, it’s time to call that one special person we haven’t talked with in a long time . . . . Best wishes.

Mark Guterman