By: C. D. Carlson - May 25 2009
Meaning of existence? Well, that depends whether I consider existence B.K. (Before Kid) or A.K. (After Kid). Before kids, I would have said that the meaning of existence was the search itself. My life was focused upon art, love, travel, friends, drinking, drugs, fitness, cats, reading, camping and sex. All of these things I inhaled voraciously in the context of the Goddess and the life force of nature..in short, living life! I believe that the Goddess wants me to seek pleasure-after all, that's why she gave us these feelings. Thus, my search for self was at the same time my search for the Goddess.
After kids? Just the kids, forget the rest. Now that my genetic material has flowered into a little person, I have laid down my search for the meaning of existence like a spent salmon. Pathetic? I agree. Cliché? Absolutely. But utterly true.
So where does the true meaning lie-before kids or after kids? I'm sure that there is more truth in the majority of my years of childless experience than in the past year that has followed the birth of my first child. I also suspect that in time, this feeling will pass and my thirst for universal truth and maximum experience will elbow its way back to front of my psyche.
You might notice however, that my long list of before-kids experience was decidedly thin on self-sacrifice and good deeds. I did not, I am ashamed to say, visit any children's hospitals or nursing homes or donate my time and energy in any significant way to those less fortunate than myself. Despite that failing, though, I have always tried to be kind, and to lend a helping hand or give a kind word to friends and strangers alike. But make no mistake: I have always been Number One in my world.
After having a child, this self-centered world (which I thoroughly enjoyed) has taken a back seat, and it didn't go kicking and screaming. Surprisingly, the sacrifice doesn't feel like sacrifice at all; rather, it is exactly what I want to do. (If you want to do it, is it really a sacrifice?) I am grateful to whatever biology or blessing of the Goddess has caused this to happen, and I feel for people who feel the burden of their sacrifice. I have never been more content than in the year since my son was born. Exhausted, sure-but also contented.
It's kind of clichéd to say that the meaning of existence resides in doing good deeds and giving of yourself. As a Pagan, these are not things that I have emphasized in my practice. (This is just me, of course; I'm sure most Pagans are better citizens than myself.) I think the meaning of existence is found in the search, if the search is about living. But I wonder if I would have been happier B.K. if I had done a little bit more for others and focused a little less upon myself?
I don't believe in self-denial or asceticism in any way. I don't believe that the body is something to be conquered or the spirit something that you find. Rather, I think that the Goddess is within us, and we have to nourish ourselves to help it growing. But now that I have a kid, I'm thinking there might be a little bit more to the meaning of existence than just self-exploration and self-expression. Even love, the greatest of all quests, is not enough.
I might sound a bit like our neighbors in the other Gateways here at Patheos when I say that sacrifice is essential to the meaning of existence. But not sacrifice that feels like a sacrifice! (I'm reminded of Eliot's Archbishop in Murder in the Cathedral...But then, I was an English major.) It might be good for society, but if you resent the giving, then it probably isn't doing your spirit any good. Of course, I am not condoning the abandonment of duty in the name of spirit-we don't need any more deadbeat dads. What I am advocating is the importance of finding a type of giving that feels good to you. For me that happened by becoming a parent. For others it may involve a change of career, or getting involved with charities, after school programs or public gardening. But I think it is important to combine the search for self with the goal of giving. Somewhere in the mix of both of those things is the meaning of existence. I just know it.
C. D. Carlson holds a B.A. in Creative Writing, a certificate in Massage Therapy, a J.D. from a top-tier law school, and is currently pursuing certification in Secondary Education. He is a true Renaissance Man, but not the kind that goes to the festivals.