This short documentary Being 97 by Andrew Hasse is moving and poignant. The ageing philosopher Herbert Fingarette (1921-2018) contemplates the meaning of life and death after having written several books about it during his academic career. He asks, “what is the point of it all?” He feels he failed at solving it.
I think in the end he perhaps did solve it, but he didn’t realize that he had. He finally saw that it was not a question that could be answered, that it has no rational logical definite answer. It was a “silent answer.” There is no answer. Silence is the answer.
As he looked out on the trees from his porch he finally saw that perhaps the reason for life was life itself, that being was its own reason, that life exists for life, and this is transcendent beauty in and of itself which we often overlook as we go about our busy daily lives. The point of life is life, the ups and downs, the loves and failures, the happiness and sorrow.
This is not reasonable or logical. The rational mind can’t make sense of it. There is no end game, no point to it other than itself. Life is the point. It is found in the living of it, and the love expressed within it. Life is trying to realize itself, and in so doing often misses itself.
Thornton Wilder noted in his popular play Our Town that we often don’t recognize life while it is happening, but only after it has happened:
EMILY: “Does anyone ever realize life while they live it… every, every minute?”
STAGE MANAGER: “No. Saints and poets maybe… they do some.”
Or as the 17th century German mystic Angelus Silesius expressed it:
The rose is without ‘why’;
it blooms simply because it blooms.
It pays no attention to itself,
nor does it ask whether anyone sees it.
A rose has no point, no reason for existing. Its existence alone is enough. It doesn’t ask itself, “what point do I have? Why do I bloom?” The point of a rose is simply to be a rose, it is in being, it is in living. It is to do what roses do. It exists because it exists. It lives because it lives. It is because it is, and that is why it is. If the rose could speak perhaps it would say “I am that I am.”
Maybe we can learn from these, meditate on the gift of Life, and come to deeply appreciate it for what it is in itself.
And maybe that’s enough.
5 thoughts on ““What is the point of it all?””
Thanks Bryce. “The point of a rose is to be a rose”. I think that captures it. While there may be some ultimate meanings out there, we are finite and at least in my case, I know the infinite by its questions but not by its answers. The point of a human is to be a human. We have learned a lot about what is a good human life. Over the millennia, we have fashioned the three transcendental ideals: truth, beauty, and goodness. See link below:
A human life is lived well if it is lived in pursuit of these ideals. We have found that these are innate to our strivings and satisfactions. I don’t mean to suggest that this is the only map of human purpose, but it is one that I most often refer to.
Thank you David. I like those transcendental ideals: truth, beauty, goodness.
Bryce, do you think that individual humans have unique purposes to accomplish during their lifetime?
Hi Amy. I think that humans can find unique purposes and meaning in their life, they can create purpose. But I don’t think they are predestined for those purposes, that there are some pre-set purposes for each human to accomplish. I think that may be for each of us to develop what our unique talents and gifts are to share with the world.
I think the trouble we often get into is thinking that there is some ultimate purpose that we’re missing beyond life and love itself. I don’t think there is. If there is any purpose it may be to realize this: life and love is what we are. The greatest mystics seem to have all come to a similar realization that we are Life and Love (or said another way, Consciousness in union as One), that this is our divine nature, and there are many ways we can find to live and love as fully and abundantly as possible (John 10:10).
Love your answer. I’ve felt I have the whole world before me to discover and play in and find what makes my heart sing and do it. That’s so freeing than thinking you’ve got to find something someone else decrees is your destiny. Too much pressure and fear in that. To realize that “life and love are what we are” is just beautiful! Thanks, as always, for your wisdom. 🙏