One of my most memorable moments of 2010 was standing in the hallway on the third floor of a hospital outside one of the rooms, waiting. I was the only one there. My Father, Uncle, Grandmother and the rest of the family were about 3 miles away at another medical care center... also waiting.
We had known for a few years that my Grandfather's health was declining. He had been in and out of the hospital for quite some time. Though he had his stints of strength and good health, it was quickly declining, now more than ever. As a family, we were united in making sure that he had the best possible care, that my Grandmother was taken care of, and that (maybe selfishly) we could spend as much time with him as possible, while we still could.
That time had almost run out.
Minutes before, I had come to see him moved to a hospice center, where he could live comfortable in his final days. I arrived before they moved him, he was asleep. I didn't want to disturb him so I sat and watched him. He looked so frail, tired, broken, bleeding, tubes all over, even he had had enough.
As I stood outside, waiting for the doctors to get him ready for transport, over his painful grunts, I could hear the television blaring from another room. The healthcare reform bill had just passed and the anger and backlash over it was in full swing. I didn't care anymore, it was in the back of my mind, making room for more important things.
Though I had lost friends and family members in the past due to death, they were usually distant family members or acquaintances whom I only met a few times. But I had known my Grandfather all my life and the sting never hurt so bad or so long, as this impending one.
After about five minutes, they finished securing him to his stretcher and wheeled him out, he was awake by then, and by the look in his face, once again in pain.
...and then he saw me...
Though I myself was in a different form of pain, emotional, I felt that I had to appear strong for him and not show that I was scared for him, so I gave him a smile. I don't know if he saw through it, or otherwise knew how I was feeling, but his response was something I didn't expect: he smiled back.
As his health declined over the years, his attitude changed, he was more grumpy and he didn't smile as much anymore, rarely if so. At this point it was difficult for him to even speak. Yet in the mist if his pain and his declining health and overall mortal reality, he still took the time to fight through it all to try and comfort me, the only way he could... With a smile.
Though death is easy to explain, it's difficult to understand. I can give you terms like 'permanent' or 'universal' yet it takes the experience of either the death of a close friend/family member or a near death experience before the realization of the inevitable hits: I may not know when or where or how, but someday, I'm going to die. Something else also emerges from this realization: I don't have to be, but for the time being, I am alive.
One more thing comes up, a question. It's probably the most easiest to ask but the most difficult to answer: Why?
Why are we here? More important to the individual, why am I here? This is the precursor to the most important question "What is the meaning of life". I can't answer that question and I don't intend to here. What I will tell you, is what I believe the meaning of my life is. You, all of you, are the meaning of my life.
I think I can say with confidence that you think you are, in some way, important. Either to your job or your friends or family or a combination of the three; someone, somewhere is depending on you to somehow help them. That is the society we live in, we depend on each other to get through the day. We combine resources and intelligence to make what is today, better tomorrow. The items we consume and the labor we provide are for the distinct purpose of overall survival of not just ourselves as individuals, but of all of us as a community of independent beings who have nothing else to do in this world but to just live.
However, it doesn't just stop there. We visit a sick friend or family member, we call a friend to hear about their day, we give rides to people who are having car troubles, and we comfort those who are hurting. We don't have to do them and not everyone does, but when they are done, it's done voluntarily, through the goodness of one's heart.
I recently read this quote:
"Love is the condition in which the happiness of another person is essential to your own"
What if we expanded it to the happiness of everyone in our lives? In one way or another, we live to help each other. To keep each other happy, that in turn can make us happy.
I don't know if that is the meaning of life; to live, help, and love each other, but that is what I have chosen to be the meaning of my life, a lifetime commitment to helping the people in my life live the best lives they can. It gives me comfort knowing that I can and have made a positive difference in the lives of others.
Of course, I'm not perfect: I can't help everybody, I may not be able to help as much as I want, or I may offer help to those who don't want it. Those are my flaws, yet I think I can live with them. I think you can too, knowing that if you absolutely need help, I will do the best that I can.
Because what do I have, if not my fellow people? What's the point of living a full life if one only uses it to burden others? We may live in a world of classes and hierarchies, but life itself is equal. And because it's short, rare, and not absolute, it also makes it special. You, because you are or were once alive, are special, and because we are living beings, whether it's by giving gas money or looking over someone's paperwork or simply doing the job you are employed to do, it is up to us to depend on each other to live.
My Grandfather didn't have to smile at me anymore than I had to smile at him. We were both aware of the situation and the pain we were both in, I didn't even have to be there. Yet because I was special to him and he was special to me, we both went out of our ways to give each other what little comfort we could. As generous and as full his 84 years of life were I'm sure he too once came to a similar conclusion. It was nice to know that one of my last memories of him is this.
I also know that I will one day face the same fate. If by then, I can look back at my life and see that I was able to make a positive difference in your lives, maybe I can go smiling too.