Journeys in the Search for the Meaning of Life. A story of those who have found it
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© Rami Bleckt
© Publishing company «Blago-Darenie»
* * *
This extraordinary story has changed the outlook and lives of many people. It began in the first class cabin of a trans-Atlantic flight. I had boarded and taken my seat beside a man reading a Russian newspaper. I wondered where he had gotten it and just thought to myself, "Well, so he's a Russian speaker, too."
Just before take off, several other people belatedly joined us in first-class. The first had an unusual appearance, unusual in such a way that it was difficult to define what his nationality was. He had a thick head of gray hair, a wise look to him, and faint wrinkles around his eyes – none of which helped to define his age, but he seemed to be over 40. There was an air of calm around him. The second man had a child. The last person to enter was a pretty young woman, brightly dressed and sexy. They all sat not far from me.
The first of these, "the wise man," as I nicknamed him, sat across the aisle from me.The man with the child and the young woman sat across the aisle in the row in front of me. The woman had begun to stow her small bag up top when she arrived and it was clear she expected others to fall over themselves offering to help her. This is frequently the way it occurs with pretty women, spoiled by the attention others lavish on them, accustomed to receiving requests to become acquainted and being offered help for the slightest reason. Yet her bag was so small and light and the personal energy she exuded so repulsive, no one felt the compulsion to help, the more so that she didn't really need it. Her outwardly flirtatious appearance quickly turned into scantly concealed anger and irritation.
Everyone took their seats and the announcement came that we were taking off. The plane taxied down into standby position, where we then had to wait for almost an hour before take off because of a backlog of delayed planes. Even though this doesn't happen often, when it does, it is quite irritating. This time, however, while we sat there waiting, something interesting took place. I was paying attention to "the wise man" in the front row. He asked the stewardess about what time we would be landing, taken our late departure. When she gave him an approximate time, a look of confusion crossed his face for a second. Taking into account about a two-hours delay, it now looked like he would have to stay overnight in Toronto. (On arrival, he was supposed to catch a connecting flight out of the US.)
The interesting thing was that, despite his confusion, he looked peaceful and unperturbed. He glanced at his watch rather calmly, although he was now late for some important meeting or conference, a fact which came out later during a conversation with the young woman. It also became clear that he had no Canadian visa and so he would not be able to leave the airport for hotel accommodations. Too bad; the next flight for him would not be until after lunch time of the next day.
All this he discussed with the flight attendant. Yet throughout it all the man exuded calm. I clearly noticed that, despite the delay, his reaction to it all was devoid of annoyance or pretentious behavior. Later, I learned that these three late passengers had been seriously – and unceremoniously – frisked and detained at the airport and had barely made it to our flight. Yet even this circumstance hadn't fazed his outward calm.
* * *
At the same time, it was interesting to watch the boy. He was five, though at first I had thought eight or ten. He had an unusually intelligent look, wise for a child, and asked his father questions in a loud and insistent way. The father, in contrast, was quite ordinary-looking, rather disheveled and displeased, yet was answering his son in a calm manner.
"Papa, why are we just sitting here?"
"Because the flight is delayed, because other planes have messed up the schedule. Lots of planes are taking off, and lots are landing. The runway is occupied."
"But why? Why did this happen?"
"It just happens sometimes."
"But why did we fly with this plane? We could've left with a different one. Gee, we had two weeks of vacation left and we could've had a great time at Grandma's."
"I have to work."
"Why do we have to work?"
"So that there would be a reason to live and that there will always be something to eat."
"Why live? Why do we live? What's the reason? For you, Papa, what's the reason? Do you know your reason for living?"
Up to this point, the man had answered confidently, but here he faltered.
"Yeah, well, you know… you'll understand when you grow up," he said.
"Oh, come on, Papa. What's the reason? What? Tell me."
At this point, the man started to tell him some general kinds of things, but the child wasn't having it. He would ask again and yet again the same question, bringing the man to the same dead end: "But why?" Why rush forward, why work hard so that you earn something, why fulfill your obligations, why help people, and on and on.
It was rather amusing to observe. And still, once again:
"Papa, so why do we live? What's it all for, what's the reason?"
The boy kept it going on.
"Well, I really don't have a final answer to give, and I think hardly anyone does…"
At this, the boy nearly broke out in tears.
"So… what?! Everyone is living with no purpose, even scholars? Why be born, study, then work, and then get old and die?"
"Maybe there is no meaning…"
At this, "the wise one" spoke up in crystal-clear Russian:
"But why say that? There is a meaning to life."
"Do you really know?" asked the boy's father.
Between them an interesting conversation began. Since they were but an arm's length from me, it was easy to hear.
"Yes, I know the meaning and I have a goal in life," said "the wise one."
He said it so self-assuredly and calmly that I felt he was speaking from clear conviction, imparting faith in his words.
The boy's father asked, "You have, no doubt, found your special purpose in life?" "No, but in my opinion I know the overall reason for people's lives. Moreover, each of us has a special purpose and it is very important that each of us finds it."
At the words 'special purpose', the man and the young woman, perked up. The young woman, it turned out, was also a Russian speaker. I have often noticed that if a woman has that kind of a beauty, she is Slavic.
The man and the boy nearly shouted out in one voice:
"So what is the meaning of life? What is our special purpose?"
"Tell us, tell us," the boy implored, nearly crying.
The man sitting beside me also asked, "Pardon me for interfering, but I'm interested, too. Tell us; I'm sure it will be interesting to everyone. How did you arrive at your conviction, and how do you know that everyone can find his own special purpose?"
"For that, I need to tell you about my whole life, that will take quite some time."
At this, he was earnestly encouraged to continue; after all, there was plenty of time, and everyone would be glad.
Just as the plane finally taxied onto the runway and began accelerating for take off, "the wise one" consented to tell his story, which pleased the passengers greatly. As the plane sped down the runway, he sat back, closed his eyes, and appeared to be concentrating fully. When the plane finally took off, he opened his eyes, attentively looked out the window, and began his story. It all proceeded so smoothly, you could tell that he was completely engrossed in his thoughts.
A spectacular sunset was streaming through the windows. The clouds were adorned with streaks of the setting sun. It was the last day of winter. And for those of us who listened to the story, life now became divided into two parts – before and after this encounter.
"The wise one" spoke quite calmly and thoughtfully, pausing at times for almost a full minute. Including breaks for meals, the story took some five hours.
The stewardesses didn't understand Russian and simply looked on with interest at the company gathered together. No one ordered alcoholic drinks the whole flight; it was clear that they wanted to understand what he was telling them.
Later, after this flight, and with his consent, I met with "the wise man" and recorded this story. In fact, the basis of this story is really a set of recordings by Arthur (the actual name of "the wise man"), which he scrupulously laid down. Later, he gave me copies, asking only that I change the names of the characters in the story.
* * *
Let me briefly tell you about the fellow passengers with whom I later became friends. We each shared our life's stories, after which it was plain, once again, that life is not just a random event and God doesn't bring people together by sheer accident.
The young woman, whom we'll call Natasha, had flown to Canada from Europe to perform as a model in a show. Several shootings had been planned.
She was a successful economist, though this was not evident by looking at her. However, lately she had begun to feel that her life was not fulfilling. She was almost 30 and had achieved more than she had earlier imagined she could: she had graduated with honors from a prestigious institute and gotten a good job. There, they valued her, above all for a financial plan she'd devised which had brought the company success. Yet, out of personal curiosity, she had decided to give the modeling business a try. (She had always understood this to be a dream profession that most girls were willing to make every sacrifice to get into.) A girlfriend from way back in school, now a manager of a large agency, had invited her to give it a try.
Natasha now had an enviable portfolio which attracted the right people. She'd had a successful whirlwind tour of Europe and now this show in Canada. It would seem that she had achieved a dream – money and fame – but with it had come a certain dissatisfaction in life. She sat on the plane and though to herself.
"What's my life for? Why did I go on this trip? Here I am, 30 already, but – what now? Her thoughts were disturbing her. What's my purpose in life? Why was I born? Is everything really without meaning – 'make money and get famous', however you can, as my girlfriends would put it?" The way she saw it, her friends and colleagues paid more attention to playing at life than to finding happiness in it.
* * *
The man sitting to my right, Sergey, also had an interesting story to tell.
He was wondering how the second half of his life was rushing by so much faster than the first half, and the older he got, the more he noticed this. Hardly would one year begin than it would seem the end was already there.
He could only remember a couple bright spots in the current year. It was all like a trip on a super-fast express train, zooming along faster and faster, whereas his childhood had been, as if, on a quiet and slowly moving train. "Why is that? Where is the train rushing off to?" he asked himself, trying to find a logical answer to it all. Yet, the more he tried to sort it out, he only got himself more frustrated. So he tried to find answers from another source, one which had never attracted him before – a spiritual book. He prayed and sincerely asked God for help in understanding this matter. Then he decided just to observe the world around him and wait for a reply.
A few days later, here he was on this flight. He'd found a Russian newspaper which, by chance, had been left in the flap in front of his seat despite the work of the cleaning crew. It was some obscure regional paper from Russia and it was curious how it had gotten on a flight to London.
Sergey couldn't have cared less about that region's news. He didn't even want to read a newspaper. He was intent on finishing a book which he had to give back to a friend upon his return. Yet, the paper attracted his attention. He opened it in the middle, and there he saw a large article comparing child and adult psychology. The article hooked him with its first few lines. It lay out a number of interesting facts.
"And really, at what age would a person not need this unconditional love?" Sergey chuckled, while reading the article.
How amazing! It was at that very moment of reading the article that he had heard the child asking his father the questions – Why? Why? Why? The father was answering with great difficulty and trepidation. And now the entire group was involved in the question of the meaning of life.
Here Arthur had begun his story; his recollections completely changed Sergey's life. It was like a miracle. He had only just finished an article on this subject and had so very recently asked for God's help in resolving this matter for him.
So, here is the story.