Reflections on a Wandering Life.....

Saturday, April 25, 2009


Well, I'm half way to 110. Lily at the Bridge Cafe made a special latte for my birthday yesterday.

I don't really know that 55 is that big a milestone, but for several reasons, it generates reflection a bit more than the past few. I think part of it is that I am considering my life in China, and which way to go next. I really like Beijing; it's probably one of the nicest places I have ever lived--certainly the most interesting and diverse. But since I have come to China, I have often contemplated spending a little time in the countryside. I do this every summer, so I know a little bit about what it would be like, which is why I haven't been in any great hurry to pick up and move west.

I would also like to spend some time studying language. I do that every day now, of course, but it would sure be nice to spend a few months doing it intensely. That is something I have never been able to do.

Last night I was sitting at the Shangdao coffee bar staring into space, when I got a call from a friend of mine who is an officer in the PLA. I told him where I was, and he came to chat for awhile. He asked me to give my observations on the meaning of life after 55 years. I told him that life is essentially meaningless without some connection with the eternal. For example, if you take a small car and jack it up so that the wheels are not touching the ground, and then step on the gas, the wheels will spin, but the car will not move. Frustrated, you buy a much larger, more powerful car, jack it up so that the wheels are not touching the ground, and then step on the gas. The engine is much more powerful, but the effect will be the same. So no matter how rich and powerful your life, if there is no connection with the eternal, the endless cycles of life have no meaning. It's basically the message of Ecclesiastes.

Life is full of cycles. You eat, but you know that a few hours after you eat, you will be hungry again. The cleaning lady comes, and the place looks great. A few days later, you wonder what happened. Ever changed a baby's diapers? I guarantee you...never mind--but you get my point.

The punishingly cyclical nature of life can give one an overwhelming sense of futility. This is the sentiment expressed by Solomon in Ecclesiastes. But although the book starts with futility, the conclusion is redeeming:

"Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man. For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil." (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14)

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