One of my most memorable moments was standing in the hallway on the third floor of a hospital outside one of the rooms, waiting. My father, grandmother and the rest of the family were about three miles away at another medical care center... also waiting.
We had known for some time that my grandfather's health was declining. He had been in and out of the hospital a lot lately. Though he had his stints of 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 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 his final days comfortably. I arrived before they moved him. He was asleep, so I sat and watched him. He looked so frail, tired, 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 pain I could hear the television blaring from another room. The health care bill had just passed and the anger 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 in the past due to death, they were usually distant family members or acquaintances that I only met a few times. I had known my grandfather all my life and the sting never hurt so badly as this impending one.
After about five minutes, they secured him to his stretcher and wheeled him out; he was awake by then, and by the look in his face, in pain.
Then he saw me.
Though I was in a different form of pain, emotional, I felt that I had to appear strong and not show my fear, so I gave him a smile. I don't know if he saw through it, or otherwise knew, but his response was something I didn't expect: He smiled back.
As his health declined, his attitude changed. He had become grumpy and didn't smile as much anymore, rarely if so. At this point it was difficult for him to speak. Yet in the mist if his pain, declining health and 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 a death before the realization of the inevitable hits: Someday, I'm going to die. Something else also emerges: For the time being, I am alive.
One more thing comes up, a question: Why?
Why are we here? More important to the individual, why am I here? This is the precursor to the question, "What is the meaning of life?" I can't answer that and don't intend to here. What I will tell you is what I believe the meaning of my life is. 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, your friends, family, or a combination; someone somewhere is depending on you to somehow help them. That is the society we live in; we depend on each other and combine resources and intelligence to make what is today better tomorrow. The items we consume and the labor we provide are for the purpose of overall survival of not just ourselves as individuals, but 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, we give rides to people who are having car troubles and comfort those who are hurting. We don't have to do them, not everyone does, but when they are done, it's 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?
I don't know if that is the meaning of life, but that is what I have chosen to be the meaning of my life, a lifetime commitment to helping people live the best they can. It gives me comfort knowing that I can and have made a positive difference in the lives of others.
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 whether it's by giving gas money or looking over paperwork or simply doing the job you are employed to do, it's up to us to depend on each other to live.
He didn't have to smile at me anymore than I had to smile at him. We were aware of the situation and the pain we were both in. Yet because we were special to each other, we went out of our ways to give each other what little comfort we could. As generous his 84 years of life was, I'm sure he 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'll face the same fate. If by then, I can look back and see that I was able to make a positive difference, maybe I can go smiling too.