Over the past several years, I have experienced several significant losses and disappointments - relationships have ended, dreams have been crushed and one I deeply love passed away. Although I am slowly but surely healing and getting back up on my feet, I find that I am left with a crisis of faith that is not healing at the same pace as the rest of me. I have deeply questioned the meaning of life, my purpose in it, and whether life events are nothing more than unorchestrated randomness over which we have very little control. Although I do believe that I have grown wiser through my experiences, each passing year leaves me with more questions and fewer answers. My husband and I often preface our opinions with the words, "Keep in mind, I know nothing about nothing".
I learned that there is a fancy word/movement for the type of questioning that has plagued me of late. Ex·is·ten·tial·ism, as defined by Merriam-Webster, is a "chiefly 20th century philosophical movement that centers on the analysis of individual existence in an unfathomable universe". It's built on the premise of individual self-determination and freedom of choice. While I don't understand the full spectrum of existentialist philosophy, I do believe that we are free to make our own choices and that we have to live with the resulting consequences. I have grown to place more trust in my own innate strength and endurance, and in the light within me that helps me navigate whatever I encounter along life's path.
Recently I came across a speech by John Gardner, an influential novelist and university professor, which I think sums it up really well - but, keep in mind, I know nothing about nothing!
"Meaning is not something you stumble across, like the answer to a riddle or the prize in a treasure hunt. Meaning is something you build into your life.
You build it out of your own past, out of your affections and loyalties, out of the experience of humankind as it is passed on to you, out of your own talent and understanding, out of the things you believe in, out of the things and people you love, out of the values for which you are willing to sacrifice something.
The ingredients are there. You are the only one who can put them together into that unique pattern that will be your life. Let it be a life that has dignity and meaning for you. If it does, then the particular balance of success or failure is of less account."