Tag Archive: Meaning of Life


I wrote the following letter reply to an email from mother. If you haven’t picked up on it yet, my father is entering the last years of his life. And while I have yet to inform my parents of my diagnosis, I wrote what I hope was a well thought response.

My mother’s letter is as follows.

I’ve been wanting to share with you something Dad said the other day.  I made a small Christmas wall hanging and said (to dad), “Let’s put it up because it’s so close to Christmas anyway and it won’t get wrinkled.” 

I wished Dad a merry Christmas. 

He replied, “Yes – for the next 2 Christmases.” 

“And many more,” I replied. 

“For the next 2 Christmases”. 

“And for many others after that?” 

“Oh yeah. Sure.” replied very offhandedly’

So, I’m wondering if that’s what just came to his mind or he knows something I don’t? Or, can he can sense something?


Dear Mom:

I read your note with interest. I can attest to some extent of nature’s intuition. So, I will get to this upfront.

Every day in medicine, there are numerous examples of patients who know they are about to die, even if no one else does. They often have a feeling. And even though doctors don’t know how to explain it, the intuition is rarely taken seriously.

In hospital terms, when we talk about instinct, we usually speak about expert clinicians grasping diagnoses in ways that seem to defy rational explanation. Doctors appear to know almost intuitively which data to focus on and which to ignore. Of course, their decision-making is based on experience and deductive reasoning (and perhaps on evidence, too). Still, it seems almost mystical.

Personally, I have learned the years to take such intuitions seriously.

I can’t remember if I told you this or not. Instincts can be derived from other sources. In 2007, The New England Journal of Medicine had the story of a cat named Oscar who lives in a nursing home in Providence, R.I., and seems to have an uncanny sense for when elderly residents are about to die.

Oscar goes to the patient’s rooms, curls up beside the patient — even those residents for whom he has previously shown little interest — and purrs. Staff members learned that this is a telltale sign of impending death, as they’ve witnessed Oscar’s similar behavior in the deaths of at least 25 patients. “This is a cat that knows death,” one doctor said. “His instincts that a patient is about to die are often more acute than the instincts of medical professionals.”

There are, of course, other signs that can guide intuition. Natural aging is one. Or maybe it’s a combination of natural aging and the will (internal will) to remain meaningful. Then there’s Google.

If you’re after a bit of a break from worrying whether killer robots will murder us all, don’t worry: Google knows when we’re all going to die. Google’s Medical Brain AI team has been working on neural network software which can scan through a person’s electronic health records, pull together relevant information, and quite effectively determines how long that person will live.

Accuracy nears 96%.

It turns out Google is efficient at sorting through mountains of data, including scribbled notes on old charts, and turning them into useful predictions while also pointing out to healthcare practitioners where they’ve pulled the data.

Then there’s just plain age. Turns out, the older you get, the accuracy increases. Why? Because people get older and die.

In truth, if you create an algorithm that assesses patients against the mean average age of that person in the population, you reasonably accurately and quickly dial into an expected natural life. For instance, FlowingData website calculates that I have a 10% chance of dying in the next ten years and a 26% chance within 10 – 20 years. And if I input’s dad’s age, he has an 88% chance of dying between in the next several years.

My company has a similar AI program. I inputted dad’s age, some essential background information, recent medical trends, and the result nearly equals dad’s ‘intuition’ – meaning the AI estimated dad is likely to pass within two to two-and-one-half years, with a 47% chance likelihood of a circulatory issue (heart or lung).

People are amazed when I tell them fairly accurate things. It’s not magical. In truth, having been in the medical profession and installing all these systems, I know the statistics, even weird ones. For instance, I know that between 45–50, the relative majority of deaths are due to cancer. As cancer gradually declines in importance, circulatory diseases become the leading cause of deaths those between the ages of 75–80. Mental disorders (Alzheimer’s, dementia, etc.) and diseases of the nervous system are common causes of death after 80+ years of life.

Of course, dad knows none of this. He does, however, know his own body. He’s tired, and like many nearing a winter morn’, he may simply want to look moving forward.

Therefore, here’s my suggestion. Forget all the statistics, mind over matter, intuition, etc. Focus on trying to find a way to enjoy the time you have and what you have left. In a way, you are in an enviable position of knowing and experiencing “the ultimate relationship.”

And what’s that?” you ask.

The ultimate relationship we can have is with someone who is dying. This landscape of such a relationship is so varied and so vast that it not only renews, but you’ll discover a new level of intimacy never experienced. In this way, love will teach a certain sense of gratitude for what we have been given.

But … prepare for when the day comes … for it’s sooner than later.

I am Meant to Write. And I do.

My last post stayed with through much of Saturday. The question, “What am I about?” What on earth gives me meaning?

One writer who had an imprint upon me is Viktor Frankl. Man’s Search for Meaning was written in nine successive days. Having a keen sense of human behavior, wrote a most profound observation:

“We who lived in concentration camps can remember the men who walked through the huts, comforting others, giving away their last piece of bread. They may have been few in number, but they offer sufficient proof that everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

Frankl noted any man, under such circumstances, can decide what shall become of him – both mentally and spiritually. And truth be told, I am by nature, one of those ‘hut guys‘ – those who comfort and help.

Like most, I spent an awful lot of time searching for meaning. As a kid, I used to believe a variety of positions would provide meaning I longed. First, there was a police officer. A fireman was next, followed by a football player, baseball player, preceded by a preacher and humanitarian.

Nothing settled.

Instead, I melted into unimaginable. My life’s resume included Air Force Aerospace Rescue and Recovery to government trained sniper, college kid, investigator, auditor, consultant to governance. I married, then divorced. I married again, later experienced a beautiful true love (but not the physical affair). I managed to blow that and divorced again. Became homeless and lived out of a car. Through a friend, I regrouped and learned to relive. And now, at 58, I still can’t quite define what gives me meaning.

After posting yesterday morning, I called my mother. In the course of our conversation, she blurted:

Have you started your book yet?”

Ah.” I paused, as I always do when broaching the subject. “Not yet.”

Oh. You’re such a good writer.”

I realized at that moment, therein lay my meaning. I was meant to write. That’s what I do.

My blog is interconnected with my life, my career, and readers. I’ve written nearly 570 posts and have approximately 180 followers. I am proud of that. True, my blog does not generate an income. As such, I never considered myself a super blogger that posts on anything or everything. It’s just not my style. And honestly, I’ve never charged for access or asked for profit.

I started this blog to write, to share ideas. Like most writers, I experience periods of mental blocks. Other days, words flow freely, as if channeled by a spiritual force. Yet, I understand writing takes work, as each post can quickly absorb several hours.

So, how does writing fit with my position at ABC Inc.? I can only say that everything in my life is interconnected. Woven like tapestry skills from ancient artisans, my job provides the opportunity to interconnect – to see stories, pain, successes, and failures.

We are likely to find our unique meaning based upon our circumstances, our relationships and our experiences. The Buddha might say, “everything is interconnected.” As such, you, my friends and coworkers, are my canvass, for, without you, I would not have written a single word. And just as I, one is more likely to find meaning hidden in the relationships of others.

I’ve come to believe that life essentially tests us. Frankl noted we need to stop asking about the meaning of life each day and hour. Therefore, the meaning of life is not on some remote mountaintop or exalted from gurus living in a cave. Instead, it is revealed daily and hourly, in our choice to take the right action as we perform our duties and responsibilities. It is found in the ability to love others richly.

So, have I found my meaning? Yes. I am meant to write. And I do.

Good Tired

imageOne of the most important questions all belief systems seek to address is: What is the purpose of life? Almost all religions propose a way of life leading to salvation, liberation, satisfaction, or happiness. Buddhism is no exception.

As I pose these thoughts, allow me a few words of background. Many are unaware my ex-wife shows signs of early dementia. Thus, during the course of this disease, we’ve had many conversations surrounding the meaning of life and doing what we are called. As we dialogue and pick apart one’s personal journey and meaning, I am reminded of Harry Chapin’s comments from his grandfather.

“My grandfather was a painter. He died at age eighty-eight, he illustrated Robert Frost’s first two books of poetry, and he was looking at me and he said,

‘Harry, there’s two kinds of tired. There’s good tired and there’s bad tired.

Ironically enough, bad tired can be a day that you won. But you won other people’s battles, you lived other people’s days, other people’s agendas, other people’s dreams. And when it’s all over, there was very little you in there. And when you hit the hay at night, somehow you toss and turn; you don’t settle easy.

Good tired, ironically enough, can be a day that you lost, but you don’t even have to tell yourself because you knew you fought your battles, you chased your dreams, you lived your days and when you hit the hay at night, you settle easy, you sleep the sleep of the just and you say ‘take me away.

Harry, all my life I wanted to be a painter and I painted; God, I would have loved to have been more successful, but I painted and I painted and I’m good tired and they can take me away.’

Now, there is a process, in your and my lives, in the insecurity that we have about a prior-life or an afterlife, God- I hope there is a God. If He is- If He does exist, He’s got a rather weird sense of humor however. But let’s just- But if there’s a process that will allow us to live our days, that will allow us that will allow us that degree of equanimity towards the end looking at the black, implacable wall of death, to allow us that degree of peace, that degree of non-fear, I want in.”

Most people dislike facing the facts of life and prefer the false sense of security by sweat equity, dreaming and imagining. Thus, we accept shadow for substance and fail to realize life’s uncertainty.

Being deeply religious, my ex-wife understands life by facing and understanding death as nothing more than a temporary end to a temporary existence. Still, many misconstrue life’s ultimate meaning: reaching upwards to a higher level of being. Whether rich or poor, live in India or the United States, are Catholic or Atheist, it’s the power to transform negativity into positive; turning the ignoble, noble; the selfish, unselfish; the proud, humble; the haughty, forbearing; the greedy, benevolent; the cruel, kind; the subjective, objective.

Although many forms of religion had come into being in the course of history, only to pass away and be forgotten, each one in its time had contributed something towards the sum of human progress. We are not to counter personal growth. As a Buddhist, I’m called to embrace and transcend, not to conquer for material end, but rather to strive to attain harmony with nature or spiritual satisfaction. That’s being good tired.

May we all become ‘good tired.’

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