Excellence Reporter: Marybeth, what is the meaning of life?
Marybeth Holleman: I am five years old, and I am sitting in the solid branches of my dogwood tree, the one that blooms pink flowers every spring. Up here, the breeze tickling my bare arms, the sunlight warming the branch on which I lean, I know what the answer is. The tree, the sun, the air tell me. It’s to be here, now, and delight in it. It’s to love the world.
What else is there?
We humans overthink things; we complicate things. I have written pages of answers in my head, attempting to distill my life’s quest. And I keep coming back to this: to find meaning, I head outside, and sit under a tree, or by a stream, or climb a mountainside. I get out in the world, the one beyond human skin; I enter the temple of the more-than-human world. As I leave all human chatter behind, the veil drops, and I find the answer.
The answer for me, in that moment. We complicate by thinking it’s one-size-fits-all. We each must find our own meaning, and must recognize that this meaning may change with every moment. It’s not static, it doesn’t last forever, any more than the pink blossoms of my dogwood tree. Thankfully, we are not on our own; we have the trees, and the butterfly flitting to the opened flower.
The meaning of life is different for each of us because we find our calling at that intersection of the world’s great need and our great joy. Each person’s great joy is different, and so it’s up to each of us to find that intersection, to find what it is we’re here to do. When I find my calling, everything flows. It’s as if we’re all pieces in a great big puzzle, and if we all find where our little puzzle piece fits, then it will bring great joy to us, and great good to the world. Unimaginable good.
But life’s meaning is also universal, for even as we are unique and irreplaceable beings, we are also all one. Both are true. We find our way when we recognize this unity, and accept the great honor and responsibility of being born human. At root, regardless of the means with which we express our lives, it all comes down to Love. It’s to experience, share, give and receive love. To ourselves and every other being on Earth. Every irreplaceable being. It’s that mix of compassion and kindness and empathy and tolerance and equanimity: just pure, unconditional, continuous Love.
And here I am, being human, overcomplicating things. I look out my window. The birch branches are tinged red; I can almost feel the sap rising as the tree prepares for another budbreak. The birch reminds me that life is both cyclical and linear, everchanging, and interconnected in ways we will never fully understand. The tree centers me, is me, reminds me that the point, after all, is to live everything.
Make of yourself a light, said the Buddha. Let that light be Love.
~Marybeth Holleman is author of The Heart of the Sound, co-author of Among Wolves, and co-editor of Crosscurrents North. Pushcart-prize nominee, her essays, poems, and articles have appeared in dozens of journals, magazines, and anthologies, among them Orion, Christian Science Monitor, Sierra, Literary Mama, ISLE, North American Review, AQR, The Future of Nature, and on National Public Radio. She runs the blog Art and Nature. Raised in North Carolina’s Smoky Mountains, she transplanted to Alaska’s Chugach Mountains 30 years ago.
Copyright © 2019 Excellence Reporter