Mr. Rudolph reaches out and lifts the flower out of its vase. "To a flower, this photograph means nothing. So when you ask what is the meaning of life, there can be no answer that will apply to everyone and everything. What is a photograph, or a sunset, to a flower? We all bring our own perceptions, needs, and experiences to everything we do. We will all interpret an event, or a sunset, differently."He pauses, and I am trying to keep up with him. "Basically," I (Jeremy) say slowly, concentrating on my words. "What you're saying is that it's all relative. The meaning of the sunset, or of life itself, is different for everyone?"Exactly," he says.... As we head slowly into the big room, I turn to him and ask, "But even if the sunset has different meanings for everyone, it still has meaning, right?" "That's a tricky question to answer," Mr. Rudolph says, stopping to replace the frame back on the wall. "That sunset will still shine just as surely, just as colorfully, whether it is shining on a wedding or a war. So it would seem that the sunset itself doesn't have inherent meaning; it is just doing its job. If the sunset doesn't have meaning apart from what we give it, does a rock? Or a fish? Or life itself? But just because a park bench, for instance, doesn't have meaning, that doesn't mean it doesn't have worth." ... We have reached the door now, and I'm not sure I'm any closer to understanding what's in the box. My shoulders sag. "Maybe this will help clear things up," Mr. Rudolph says. "You need to be sure of the question you are asking. Sometimes people think they are looking for the meaning of life, when really they are looking for an understanding of why they are here. What their purpose is, the purpose of life in general. And that is a much easier question to answer that the meaning of life." Lizzy is already halfway out the door. "It is?" I ask, pulling her back in by the sleeve. ... "You are the same as the lamp, the chair, the flower," Mr. Rudolph explains. "All you have to do is be the most authentic you that you can be. Find out who you really are, find out why you are here, and you will find your purpose. And with it, the meaning of life.
I made sure to pay attention to everything I was doing. To be fully in the moment. Because that's all life is, really, a string of moments that you knot together and carry with you. Hopefully most of those moments are wonderful, but of course they won't all be. The trick is to recognize an important one when it happens. Even if you share the moment with someone else, it is still yours. Your string is different from anyone else's. It is something no one can ever take away from you. It will protect you and guide you, because it IS you. What you hold here, in your hand, in this box, this is my string."Until recently, I thought it was death that gave meaning to life--that having an endpoint is what spurred us on to embrace life while we had it. But I was wrong. It isn't death that gives meaning to life. Life gives meaning to life. The answer to the meaning of life is hidden right there inside the question. "What matters is holding tight to that string, and not letting anyone tell us our goals aren't big enough or our interests are silly. But the voices of others aren't the only ones we need to worry about. We tend to be our own worst critics. Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote: 'Most of the shadows in this life are caused by our standing in our own sunshine.' ... Wisdom is found in the least expected places. Always keep your eyes open. Don't block your own sunshine. Be filled with wonder.