Reflections, Vol. 1: Does Life Have Meaning?

This series poses life-questions for personal reflection.

My views are offered as a thought starter.

Question: Does Life Have Meaning?


One of my favorite Jackson Browne songs is “For A Dancer.” I’m going to borrow a portion of the last verse to frame my reflections.

And somewhere between the time you arrive

And the time you go

May lie a reason you were alive

But you’ll never know

I suppose one could interpret that as a “downer.” I see it as wonderfully mysterious. 

It reminds me of George Bailey, the character Jimmy Stuart played in the 1946 film, “It’s A Wonderful Life.” When George’s business failed, he thought he was a failure and decided to commit suicide. He was saved by a guardian angel that showed him what the world would’ve been like had he never lived.

“It’s A Wonderful Life” is listed as #1 on the American Film Institute’s list of the most inspirational films of all time. You probably already know this. Who hasn’t seen “It’s A Wonderful Life?”

Here’s something you may have missed.

The film was directed by Frank Capra. Its financial breakeven was $6.3 Million, a figure the film didn’t come close to returning at the box office. After this failure, Capra was accused of losing his ability to produce popular, financially successful films. (Wikipedia). 

Like George Bailey, Frank Capra (1897-1991) lived to see the impact of his “failure.” Not all of us are so lucky.

When we wonder if our life has meaning, it’s usually in the context of “Me,” when in fact, we should be asking a clarifying question. Namely,” Meaning to whom?”

George Bailey’s life appeared to lack meaning until his guardian angel helped him see how much he mattered to others.

I interpret Jackson Browne’s lyrics in the same context. It is unlikely we will ever know the true meaning of our life. That’s because life isn’t merely about us. Our acts of kindness matter and often survive us.

My Dad’s brother, Uncle Kenneth, was a well-driller in a small rural community. He died in 1978.

One late afternoon, he and my Dad decided to go rabbit hunting. I begged them to take me along (I was too young to go hunting), and they agreed to let me tag along and bring my BB gun (a non-lethal spring-loaded rifle) to practice gun safety. 

I discovered I didn’t have any BBs on the way to the hunting spot. I asked Dad if we could stop at the general store on the way and buy some. He said we didn’t have time. My 9-year-old vision of the “big hunt” was shattered. 

Uncle Kenneth was driving and didn’t say a word until he pulled up and stopped at the general store. “Now run in and get your BBs,” he said.

It wasn’t a big deal, but fifty-seven years later, it’s my fondest memory of my Uncle.

I believe every life has meaning. When we miss that, it’s usually because we’re looking inward rather than outward towards others.

Anyway, that’s my take on it.

Where do you find meaning in your life?


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2 Replies to “Reflections, Vol. 1: Does Life Have Meaning?”

  1. Tim,

    My first job out of college was working in public accounting where there was alot of employee turnover. I remembered after the first few people left I was surprised that the next day things went on as normal and little mention was made of the departed employees even though they were fantastic . What I learned from this experience was that many times people did not remember what you did at work but many times they did remember how you made them feel. This learning has been reinforced numerous times throughout my life – including some of your posts. Given this learning, it gave me the perspective that every day i have an opportunity to give a little more meaning to my life as well as to others by doing small acts such as giving compliments, performing random acts of kindness, offering positive encouragement, reaching out to someone who is isolated, etc.
    Many times these acts are directed at strangers. Although they are small gestures, I do find they provide a little meaning in today’s world.

    Good luck with the evolution of your post!


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