Guest Column: Finding Meaning – “A Personal Journey”

Source. Pexels. Steve Johnspn. Photographer

by Edward Reid II

As a film director I am an observer. Recently I overheard a conversation by… well, I guess I can say, a younger man discussing his worries about being so old at twenty-eight and he couldn’t even fathom what it what be like in twenty years.  Well, I am three years away from that, and I do remember thinking in a similar manner and sometimes I still do, it’s probably a common thought.  

It also happened later that day that I was in a conversation with a friend of mine who is experiencing age related depression. He is now seventy. He sometimes talks of his regrets and how he wishes he could have lived a different life – how he has shifted away from others and their friendships. 

I think whatever our age we think we are either old or advancing in age. At least I did and I often do. It may be a sign of assessing where we are in life, like the friend I was talking to who felt like a failure. I sometimes notice myself comparing my age with that of others. I may see in the media that they’re successful and recognize that as a sign that I may be falling behind.

What does this mean when we are evaluating this objectively?  I have come to conclude that it is my self-expectation.  If I am looking at these one in a million celebrities or politicians, I may be holding myself to a standard that is unreachable or could possibly be something I really would not want. The Greek interpretation of 2 Corinthians 10-12, Saul of Tarsus (St. Paul) suggested it was unwise and foolish to compare oneself with another. 

From a young age, we are told we can be whatever we want.  There are no limitations. For a few this is true, but for many, they will find out that this is not how life really works out. Not everyone can be the president or a rockstar no matter how hard they try.  That philosophy we are taught when we are young about doing whatever we want changes as we grow and then we are told when we cannot attain what we thought – “In the theater of life every one may be amused except the actor.”  George Bernard Shaw, Misalliance. (1910)

 I have some involvement in the film industry, and I started a film group for my community years ago when I was starting out for collaboration.  In time it grew to over 25,000 members.  Although time-consuming, to make sure spammers do not enter I provide questions for anyone that wants to join.  

The questions pertain to what the individual wants to do and this has been enlightening and also, well I would have to say in a way, sad.  There are people that are completely determined that they will be in the industry, no matter what, and in my honest opinion considering the overwhelming competition, I would have to say, there may be quite a few broken dreams or people still trying while they are living in old-age homes. 

Some men held the standard of their life up to that of people like Alexander the Great who had conquered the modern world by twenty-five or see how they need to live up in another form.  This may set them off in a hurry to catch up even pushing them in a direction they don’t want to go in or making irrational decisions. Later they actually may regret that they did this.

How should we all take this?  We all feel some pressure or at least most of us do unless we have achieved some Nirvana which I doubt that most of us have although some will claim.  I would have to say with anything, at least for me, we must step back.  I am an historian and a film director and feel it is important to have perspective about this heavy situation. 

I always like to think about life in a historical manner.  So, Alexander the Great conquered the world at twenty-five but died at thirty-two, and perhaps we should consider the lifespan of those alive at that time.  They probably didn’t have time to ponder about their ages and whether they were successful. Possibly they were more worried about if they would stay alive in the next battle or starve to death in a famine.  

During World War I & II hundreds of millions had been slaughtered for a cause. Through the mid-sixties and early seventies, many a young man worried if they may be sent off to Vietnam possibly to die in war. And, in the 1980s people were dying of Aids amid international conflicts. And after 9/11 greater international turmoil greeted us.

We also have something to consider now. We too are living in dangerous times.  We are in a pandemic and millions have died.  I am grateful that I was not a part of the devastation from years ago and that I have escaped the current dangers of this century for now. 

To consider the fact that first, we are alive, that is a starting point for considering our issues with not living up to our age.  We still have a chance to do something now whatever age we are, twenty-eight like that young man who is fearful about aging or seventy like my friend with his regrets. 

The positives for both are that they have the choice, maybe one has ample years to do more, but for the other man still, even within a day, a whole life can be turned around if the person wants it to be. It is in our actions.  

One person I believe anyone should listen to considering what he went through and what he lost, his whole family, and surviving Auschwitz is Viktor Frankl.  He said, “from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

Considering he had nothing, and he knew that at any moment he could be murdered and “chose” to think this way, this is something very real for people living now to assess for their own lives.  This would be the advice for my friend if he would listen to it and take action. 

Frankl believed he would one day see his wife again.  He had a purpose to live.  He was also an instructor and would lecture to no one.  He found meaning and this and drove him to live.  He saw the prisoners before they were dying smoking all of their last cigarettes.  It was a sign they had given up all hope. 

“Whoever was still alive had hope.”  Man’s Search for Meaning. Viktor Frankl

Meaning?  Hope?  Those in my opinion are connected.  You must find hope to find meaning.  Whatever it may be.  You can choose your own meaning as well. This is the beauty of life.  Maybe you were told that you had to go one way, but you don’t.  If you are of healthy body and mind, you can choose your own way, your own meaning. 

For me now at 45, I have new meaning.  Maybe I am a little aged to have this new addition, but I am now a father.  This is something I have always hoped for.  It just came later than I thought, or as recorded in the ancient writings of Dionysius of Halicarnassus – “It is better to be late than never to arrive.” Romaike Archiologoia. Bk. ix, sec 9 (circ. 25 B.C.E.)

Many people find meaning through their children.  I can now comprehend this because I am a father, and I am in this position.  Being a parent, you now have a new responsibility where you are putting an “other” ahead of yourself.  The “other” will forever be more important than “I”.  

Whatever the darkness that overcomes my life I cannot let that destroy me because I now have added priority, alongside my partner. One of my meanings has now been determined and her name is Emilia. 

With Emilia, I can now hopefully pass on some of what I have learned in life to make it just a little a bit easier on her.  I have been able to grab onto philosophy, faith, and some actions that have made my life, after trial and error, more bearable, so that hopefully if she does listen, her life may be more bearable.