Altar Call – Opelika-Auburn News
Walter Albritton
October 7, 2001

The struggle to grasp and hold on to the meaning of life

The way we think about life in America was dramatically changed by the terrorist madness of the 11th of September. Fear has raised its ugly head everywhere with many new faces. Many of us are not sure we want to get on another airplane. We figure we will wait and see if it appears to be safe to fly again.

Some of us are not sure we want to go to another football stadium with ninety thousand people for fear some terrorist may fly a passenger plane into the crowd. We are wondering what horrible schemes the terrorists may be planning for the trains.

Others are fearful of chemical warfare so they are buying gas masks. No doubt there will be new zeal for building bomb shelters where we can store water and food and be prepared for the poisoning of the air.

If the World Trade Towers are rebuilt, surely it will be very difficult to persuade fifty thousand people to return to work there, especially on floors a hundred stories high. Most people will probably insist on ground level work space.

There is widespread concern, if not fear, that our economy has been severely wounded. The decline of the stock market has jabbed us awake with anxiety about our future financial welfare.

Still it seems that we are all counseling one another not to let fear take over our lives. To do so will let the terrorists win. We tell each other that we must allow our lives to be ruled by fear. We are encouraging each other to do whatever it takes to resume a normal lifestyle.

So I have about talked myself into staying with my plan to fly to Phoenix to perform the marriage of my grandson. I confess that I thought seriously about not going. But a friend who recently flew here from California told me he felt safer than ever before because of the new safeguards now in place.

As we all struggle with our fears, perhaps more than ever we are wrestling with the meaning of life. And that is a helpful thing. Knowing we are going to die one day is one thing. To know that our lives may be snuffed out soon by a terrorist is quite another. This dread and uncertainty pushes us to examine our lives to make sure we are getting the most out of life every day.

When we stop and ask what the meaning of life is, we may have different answers but most any answer will motivate us to take an honest look at our priorities. Doing that helps us to see where changes in our lifestyle may be needed. Such self-examination can inspire us to refocus our time, energy and resources on the values that are most sacred to us.

The author Robert Fulghum had fun talking about how in his life so far he had spent 35,000 hours eating, 30,000 hours in traffic, 2508 hours brushing his teeth, and 217,000 at work. He observed, “There’s not a whole lot left over when you get finished adding and subtracting. The good stuff has to fit in somewhere.” So he concludes, “It’s not the meaning of life, what matters is the meaning in life.”

One thing is for certain: if we are to find the meaning of life, or meaning in life, we must decide that we will not surrender to fear no matter what the terrorists do. While it may not be within our power to bring fear mongers to justice, we can choose not to become victims of fear. That is a choice each of us can make.