Some philosophers, like Nietzsche, believe that life has no meaning in itself, but that one has to construct it. I generally agree with this. But I feel one has to be in a position of privilege to contemplate the question: How can I create meaning?
I arrived at this point of view after watching a scene from a Spanish film. The movie is called Vivir es fácil con los ojos cerrados (Living Is Easy with Eyes Closed) and is set in the 1960s.
A teacher, who is a Beatles enthusiast, is driving across Spain to a location where John Lennon is supposedly shooting a film. The teacher is desperate to meet his hero. I believe he has quit his job to make the trek. During his travels, on separate pit stops, he meets two adolescents in their late teens; they are hitchhiking their way to another life because their current ones don’t fit.
As these three misfits drive towards their destination, they come across a boy, around the age of 10, who’s begging by the roadside. This boy’s clothes are tattered and he is skin and bones. Suddenly, the teacher has an epiphany. You can see it on his face. It says: I know what this boy needs. He needs a soccer ball, because that’s what all boys want, don’t they? And I bet this boy doesn’t have one because he has no money.
So the teacher gets out of his car, opens his boot and pulls out a soccer ball. He hands it to the boy. The boy takes the ball, looks at it and at once his face droops downwards. What his expression cries out is: Sir, I can’t eat this ball. Can I have some money for food, please? I’m begging you.”
To me, this scene doesn’t merely strike a chord but bangs on a drum, emanating a long-lasting vibration: when one is so poor that all they can think about is where their next meal is coming from, then there is no space to contemplate anything – like playing a game of soccer just for fun – let alone the meaning of life.
Luckily, most of us in the western world are not in this situation. Not only are my basic human needs met – food, shelter, warmth, clean water – but also I have more than I could ever need. This means that my brain is free to contemplate life, since it doesn’t need to concern itself with my primal survival.
But with all this extra space, my mind can easily go down the rabbit hole of wanting more. And more. Of thinking that my life is not enough.
The scene from the Spanish film serves as an important reminder: that to be able to meditate upon my mere existence and whether I’m doing it justice is an indulgence. Because it means I’m doing ok. More than ok. It’s a reminder to move forward from a space of gratitude for all that I have – not what I lack.