No matter who we are all of us at some time or another will wonder if we’re living a complete and meaningful life. “Meaningful” is defined as being full of meaning, significance, purpose or value, but how do we know if our lives pass the test? What may be very important to one person may not be so important to another.
Our children come into the world and into our lives each in their own special ways. In my life I have been given the gift of being “Mama” to two boys. Each one has his own special place in my heart. They grew up as brothers, fought like brothers, collaborated against authority as brothers, and are as close today as any brothers can be. Both of my boys are outgoing, loving, hard-working and honorable young men. They both have grown up and moved away, yet they still call home to check on me. The similarities end there.
Matthew came into my life kicking, crying, wrinkled and red after twenty-five hours of labor and an emergency c-section. Eric became my child at the age of eight when he stood beside Matthew as his father and I were married. Matthew is a carbon copy of his natural father. He has straight brown hair and hazel eyes and he possesses that long, lean, forever-slim frame we all long for. I had occasion to meet Eric’s birth mother some months ago and his resemblance to her is remarkable. Eric’s hair is blonde and curly. He has eyes that are such a deep shade of blue that they remind you of the pictures seen in magazines of tropical waters. Being a Navy man, he has a trim but muscular frame.
Growing up my boys were like different sides of the same coin. Matthew was the type of child you never had to raise your voice to. He loved to work on our farm and was often seen following right behind his stepfather. We often teased him about being his stepfather’s “shadow”. We never had to ask him but once to do his chores. He worked hard, did as he was asked to do and never appeared to be upset or angry. Family tensions and work requirements never bothered him, but rolled off like water running off of a duck’s back. He adjusted to our marriage and the changes in our lives with ease.
Eric, on the other hand, was our “problem child”. Being older when we married he felt I was an intruder and I’m sure that would account for some of his problems and his mental attitude. We forever had to correct, discipline, bribe and raise our voices to him. He hated the farm, his schoolwork, his homework, his chores, and anyone or anything that made him feel he wasn’t the only one in control of his life. He was constantly looking for ways to get out of any work that was assigned to him. Matthew seemed to idolize his stepfather and although Eric was the one who asked his father to find him a mother, he and I seemed to mix like oil and water. His temper is quick and hot. Eric immediately began to call me “mama”, but I think it was over three years before he actually began to accept me as his mother.
Both boys are grown now and have families of their own. We were disappointed that neither wanted to be involved with the dairy, but are proud that each is an excellent family man. Matthew lives about two hours away and has a precious four-year-old daughter. Eric lives five minutes away and has blessed me with a sweet, thoughtful daughter-in-law and three beautiful grandchildren. In a complete turn-around, I rarely hear from Matthew, though I know he is there to help me if I need him. Eric and his family come over to visit several times each week. He calls often to check on his “Mama”, or just to talk. Matthew is here when I need him, but Eric worries about me and tries to take care of me.
I am very proud of both my boys. One is my natural child, the other is not. I labored long and hard to have Matthew in my life. I worked even longer and harder, over many years to win Eric. As any true parent understands, giving birth does not make you a parent. It’s the years that come after they are born, and the love and lessons you leave with your children that makes you a parent.
I have been privileged to have two boys in my life. Each came into my life in his own individual and special way, but together they own my heart.
While our definition of the word “family” may differ, I think everyone can agree that raising children to be loving, successful contributors to society is probably one of the most important things any of us can do. In one of my more reflective times I questioned my own importance in life. Why am I here, and what had I ever done to make a difference in anyone’s life? In a most loving way, my spouse reminded me that as a step-parent, no matter what else I may do with my life, I had already made a difference in one child’s life. A successful family life goes a long way to make us feel that we are living a meaningful and complete life. Likewise, the people we choose to have as friends contribute greatly to the meaning of our lives.
We choose our friends either as a compliment or as a mirror image to our own personalities and lives. Friends give us an outlet for personal feelings. They give us the chance to gather as a “community”, however small, and an opportunity to test out our thoughts and feelings concerning life and its many challenges and meanings. Along with families, friends give us the opportunity to explore and enjoy life’s most precious moments. It’s those precious moments that shape our lives and make us feel we are living a life of value and worth.
Learning to accept who we are and honor our heritage is an important step in living a meaningful life. Most of us come from loving families and we carry forward the traits and lessons learned. Even those who come from what are now termed “dysfunctional” families can, with introspection, go on to leave legacies of love and understanding. With conscious effort the cycles of abuse can be halted or altered.
In life we must make a choice about the sort of occupation we wish to pursue. This is a difficult and tumultuous time. Money and financial status seems to rule the world. While having money can make life easier, does it make life worthwhile and complete? My mother used to sing a song to me when I was a child about a man ending up after death with “a rusty old halo and a skinny white cloud”. I don’t remember all the words but the lesson of the song was that there was a rich man living on a hill who wouldn’t be bothered to help his poor neighbor. When the rich man died and got to heaven his reward was “a rusty old halo and a skinny white cloud; second-hand wings full of patches. A rusty old halo and a skinny white cloud; a robe that’s so wooly it scratches.”
I wish I could remember more of this song as it reminds me of my dear sweet mother, but I digress.
Our occupations can define us but they need not be confining. There are plenty of charities that will welcome our help, be it financially or physically. It’s a proven fact that those who volunteer their time to a cause they believe in are happier and healthier people. If you are longing for a way to insure that your life is worthwhile and if you need to feel like your life is complete there are several things you can do:
- volunteer your time at a homeless shelter
- offer to help out at a food bank
- visit in a nursing home
- offer to help out at a hospital or with hospice
For those who love animals the list of opportunities can be endless too, some of which are:
- volunteer at an animal shelter
- offer to be a foster home for an abandoned animal
- adopt a homeless pet
- volunteer at your local zoo, to do whatever is needed to help the animals and assist and educate the visitors
It’s a proven fact that those who endeavor to help others find that they are the ones being enriched by the experience.
No discussion about the meaning of life and how to insure we live a full life would be complete without discussing spirituality. Whether you believe in a higher power or not, it is our ability to understand the feelings of others that separates us from the other animals. We long to understand our universe and we want to feel that after death some part of our spirit will go on.
I have seen the hand of God in the first rays of morning sun; the colors dancing brightly over the gentle waves that come to shore. I have seen God’s hand in the searching eyes of the children as they play on the sand and discover the jewels that the tide has washed ashore. I watch people float and ride the ebbs and swells that are the mighty ocean and I know that God is there. Like the parent’s eye that never lets a child wander far, God watches us. At the end of the day He gathers us again into the fold that is the family and He bring us rest. I have seen the hand of God in the last bright rays of the evening sun and I know I need not worry, all is well.
On face value the paragraph above appears to be about a day at the beach. It is, but it can also be a parable about spirituality and the various stages of our lives. We all start out our lives with clean slates, innocent and open to the possibilities of life like the first dancing rays of sunshine that start each day.
As children we grow and learn and discover all the different facets of life and spirituality. We float along and enjoy the good things that we encounter. As spiritual beings we believe that God watches over us like the parents who watch their children on the shore; never allowing them to get too far from our sight.
When the day is near end and with the last rays of the sun, those of us who believe feel that God will be there to gather us home into his spiritual family. We believe that God will give us eternal rest. We are not worried.
Value What is Important
All of us at some time or another will wonder about living a meaningful and complete life. During our lives the mere definition of meaningful and complete will change many times. In spite of the changes there are several things that will remain constant:
- Our family holds our heritage. We are in large part a product of who our ancestors were. We carry forward things that we learn from our family and though we are able to change things and perhaps improve the future we are always a product of the past.
- Our children are our legacy. It is through them that we as human beings go forward. To truly be worthwhile we must love and teach them well.
- Friends enrich our lives. By choosing them carefully we determine the path our lives will follow. Association with people who do well and who help others will go far to uplift our own abilities to do good.
- Choose an occupation thoughtfully. It is not enough to have a job that only pays your bills. You will be far happier and much more successful in the end if you choose a job that allows you to be of service to others.
- Volunteer your time. Volunteer your money. Volunteer your love and caring for others whenever you can.
Search for your inner spirituality
For most of us that is in the form of a “higher power”, or God, but you don’t have to be religious to be spiritual. You can seek to be spiritual in many different ways.
- Look for the good in mankind. While there are some who seem to be truly evil people, you need only witness the response of a community or a country to the results of a natural disaster to understand that mankind, as a whole, is innately good.
- Attempt to see the beauty in every person. I used to be concerned about how I looked to others; what I was wearing, how my hair was cut, whether I would be seen as an attractive person. By the same token, I would look at others just as critically. Then I began to look at pictures taken by photographers of the people in different countries. These pictures were not of made-up models, but of just the average, everyday person having been caught in the middle of their normal, every-day life. Wow, what beauty! I was struck by the beauty that was found in every photo; the individuality and the personalities that were evident in every picture, every wrinkle, every crooked smile. I have found that by being able to see the beauty in others, I am no longer so critical of myself and I focus on the things that are really important in life and not just the surface beauty.
- Take time to really look at animals and nature; see the colors, the actions, and the wonder of it all. Every animal is unique and special just as each of us is worthy of being considered special.
- Make time for your family and friends and let them know how important they are in your life. It’s true that none of us is “promised tomorrow”. You have no idea which minute, which day will be your last. Live each day as if it were your last and enjoy the things that you have been given such as your talents and your affections. If you are fortunate enough to be given affluence remember that you did not get it by working alone and make the effort to help others when you can.
When all is said and done it is not what we have materially that will go on but the love and friendships that we have developed throughout the years. We will not be remembered for the things we had but for the things we did to help others. In the final analysis helping to give meaning to the lives of others is what will ultimately make our lives complete and worthwhile.