Recently while waiting in the car before the drive to school my daughter, Mona, had a question.
Often it takes Mona a while to say what she wants to say. There is usually a prelude along the lines of "Mom? Well, mom.... So, mom, can I ask, well there's... Uh, mom? Mom, can I ask you a question?" She strings fragments of thoughts together in a way where it's hard to tell if she's stalling because she's unsure where she's going yet, or if she's nervous about the reaction she will get when the sentence is finished. Ian and I learned years ago not to interrupt her when we think we know what she's getting at because she becomes deeply offended. So we wait. It can be a long time to get to the end of a question or story, but it's always worth it to hear it with Mona's unique (if halting) construction.
However, the other day, after the drawn out opening of "Mom?" etc., followed by a disclaimer that her question was probably silly, she asked quite simply, "Why are we here?"
"Do you mean here in Milwaukee? Or are you asking why do we exist?" I tried to clarify.
"Yeah, why is there anything? What's the point?"
Quinn, sitting next to Mona, seemed very interested in this question. I told them it was not a silly question at all, and repeated it to Aden when she finally got in the car and we started to actually head to school.
I told Mona that her question was really the one Big Question, and that nobody knows the answer. Anyone who claims to is guessing, and the birds and the trees know about as much as we do about why we are here. There is a difference between believing something and knowing it. I told my kids that people who believe in God trust that He knows the answer and assume we have a purpose. Those of us who don't believe in God must create our own meaning in this world.
I believe we bring meaning to our lives by appreciating and respecting all the things around us, and by trying to leave the world a better place than we found it.
I also told my kids not to ever let anyone make them feel that their lives lack wonder or meaning simply because we don't follow a religion. We are not to be pitied or made to feel that we are missing out. There are lots of ways to look at our existence and feel awe. For instance, since matter can neither be created nor destroyed, just transformed, we are in effect all made from star dust. And how amazing is the idea that there was once a blazing ball of gaseous fire hurtling across the universe, and now it's part of that school bus over there, and some geese? Anyone who can't see the glory in that is just not trying.
The drive to school is approximately eight minutes, so that was about all the time we had for Mona's question. They laughed about the blazing star turned into a school bus as they climbed out of the minivan, and told me they liked my idea about trying to create good in the world. They all called out that they loved me as they happily headed off toward the school building.
I watched them for a moment, and as I drove away I thought about how the question of why we are here is a lot for my kids to begin to grapple with, but for me the answer is simple anymore. All the meaning I need had just gone tromping through the snow with smiles on their faces. My bundles of star dust in snow boots whom I love more than all the world.