On a recent train trip from Toronto to Ottawa (for those readers from outside of Canada, yes, these are real cities), while listening to the train’s rhythmic clickety-clack – a symphony of locomotion that has been portrayed romantically by authors possessing a talent I lack – I found myself thinking big thoughts. That is to say they appeared momentous to my trifling brain, but I doubt that minds more profound than mine would share my assessment of my musings.
Then again, it is possible that the only reason for the facade of profundity was that I had taken advantage of a half-price coupon for a first-class ticket and was being wined and dined by Via Rail Canada, a fine government-subsidized institution that is committed to the ideal that travelers in the lead passenger car should not be permitted to leave the train sober. (I hope this policy does not also apply to the lead car, the locomotive, but I have no proof of that one way or the other.) It is possible that when I reread this later, when I’m no longer enjoying alcohol-based neural stimulation, even my minor-league intelligence will no longer find my notions to be particularly weighty.
Be that as it may, mine was the quintessential big thought, “What is the purpose of life?” Or, much more to the point as far as I’m concerned, what is the purpose of my life? In the absence of a god, and I do believe we live in the absence of a god, what reason is there for us to keep going? Surely, merely waking up and striving each day to earn enough to afford to wake up and live through the next day is not sufficient justification for continuing to suffer these mortal coils.
The easy thing do would be to start believing in God. Then I could allow God or, more accurately, his self-appointed corporeal priests and prophets, to assign a purpose to me. But I can’t do that. I am, to say the least, somewhat skeptical of the existence of an invisible, meddling yet distant, all-seeing, all-knowing, all-powerful being who is so vain that He, She or It will become royally pissed off at me if I don’t frequently tell Him, Her or It how great He, She or It is. Furthermore, the lack of any possible explanation for His, Her or Its own creation – i.e., if it took a god to create the universe, who or what created God? – makes believing in a god seem so ridiculous to me that to do so would be the utmost fraud, which brings me back to my point: Without a god, we must create our own reason for continuing our lives day after day.
I was determined that before the train arrived in Ottawa I would define my ultimate, unwavering purpose – the goal that would, from this moment forward, become the driving force of my existence.
As you can imagine, the task I had set for myself was not an easy one. It was made more difficult by my self-imposed time limit of the less than four hours remaining in my journey to Ottawa. I thought long. I thought hard. My neurons were alight. My synapses fired at a lightning pace. Many ideas entered my mind in rapid succession. Some gained substance as they whirled around for a while inside my gray matter. Others didn’t.
Being an unfathomably shallow person, the obvious goals came to the fore immediately: end poverty everywhere; ensure that all people around the world are adequately housed; give everyone access to affordable clean water; bring peace to the Middle East and elsewhere; cure a dread disease or two; and determine and, more importantly, prove how the universe and its inhabitants came to be so that we can finally end the terribly destructive “my God created the universe, no my God did, no mine …” war that has plagued humanity for millennia. All of these are noble goals, but all are, despite their enormity, also frightfully trite and, worse, impossible for me to achieve.
It’s not that I was searching for a goal that was too easy. I didn’t, for example, want to cop out with an objective that was the equivalent of, say, buying a can of a tomato soup. That would occupy, at most, one small portion of only one of my remaining days and therefore would not be sufficiently fulfilling. At the same time, I did want it to be something that was at least remotely achievable within what remains of my life.
I thought and I thought and I thought some more. Finally, it struck me as in the most overpowering of epiphanies, or it would have done so if I believed in such twaddle as epiphanies. Just as we pulled into Fallowfield, the suburban Ottawa station 10 minutes from my destination, it came to me. I suddenly knew the righteous goal that would be my defining purpose for the rest of my days, the aspiration that would at last bestow meaning on my as of yet inconsequential existence. Before debarking from the train I took a solemn vow that sometime before I died, even if it required my dying breath to do so, I would once again get laid. Considering recent history, that might be a stretch goal, but it did leave me with the faint hope of being achievable.
Categorised as: philosophy