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The Meaning of Life: Which Direction Will Life Take You?

Updated on January 13, 2018

Your life and mine shall be valued not by what we take – but by what we give. - Edgar Allan

The Meaning of Life - Part 1

The Meaning of Life - Part 2

Someone asked me the other day what I would want on my gravestone when I die. It was a thought provoking question. I’m more or less known for having an adventurous spirit, but when you boil life down to its essence, I pondered, what is it that we each want to convey to those who come behind us in this world, and can we really say it with an "inscription"? As for me, I finally settled on this:

My True North - "The soul is the unfailing compass of human direction."

These are words I wrote in my early twenties and I’ve carried them in my back pocket ever since. This quotation has a lot of personal meaning for me. In fact, it has meant a hundred different things to me throughout my life: Follow your heart. Have the courage to believe in yourself, even when no one else does. God is my True North. You cannot lose your way if you have an anchor. If you don’t know where you’re going, you’re not really going anywhere! Life is a journey but your soul is the lighthouse.

I could keep going, but despite what my "inscription" means to me as its author, there is no guarantee that it will convey the same message(s) to anyone else, especially someone standing at my grave site when I’m dead and gone. There, I will not have the chance to explain it. Furthermore, there is no guarantee that anyone would read it on the far corner of some hundred-acre plot where a hundred others join me with their own "inscriptions."

Each of us have something to say, so instead of waiting until we are gone, we should strive to say it with our lives. In fact, whether we realize or admit it, we do just that. We say it in the way we treat our friends and lovers. We say it in the way we set our priorities. We say it when we write a poem or a story or a song. We say it when we decide to sit it out or dance. We say it when we decide to be a neighbor or become an enemy to our neighbor. We all have voices that are heard well above our silences. Sometimes those voices are tired and angry, or cynical and sad. Sometimes those voices are hopeful and inspiring, or cheerful and exhilarating. And they echo across the canyons of our life with crystal clarity. They will linger in the ears of those who share the journey with us. Those who come behind us – they will only be able to speculate about what we hoped to convey.

There is nothing in this world I love more than the wild outdoors. A deep blue sky with cotton candy clouds. The reflection of the whole of nature in the cool stillness of a lake or river. The glitter of granite dancing in the sun while the shadow of the hawk passes over it. The simplicity of the dew against the complexity of a spider’s silken web. The innocence and joy in an otter’s play near the rush of a bellowing waterfall. The wilderness is where I stay in touch with myself, yet you cannot see the wilderness from the road. But who I am and who I want to be – shouldn't that be seen from the road? What the wilderness gives me is the strength to be who I am. I can hide in the pain of those who have hurt me. I can cower in the shadows, afraid of those who rebuke me. OR, I can stand up for what I believe in. I believe in the healing nature of the human touch. I believe that being a true friend is far more important than having one! I believe that life is sometimes hard and frequently unfair, but it is also worth living. I believe that if we ever stop "learning" about ourselves and each other, then we really aren't "living" at all.

We all breathe the same air, but we don’t all make the same choices with the air we breathe. For each choice we make, there is a consequence. For each obstacle life hurls our way, there is a response. For every path we cross, we crossed someone else’s. For every soul, there is an "inscription" that seeks to be heard and understood. Will your friends truly know you and what you hope to convey to them, or will the substance of your life be left to the imaginations of those who have a chance encounter with your grave marker? What could your "inscription" say that could possibly mean more than you intended your life to mean?

You are only as visible as the parts of yourself that you share with others. You decide how you will be remembered in this life and beyond. If life is about how you want to be remembered, then it is really about others. And if you don't care how you're remembered, then your life was about you - no "inscription" needed. Are you hiding in the wilderness, or can others see you from the road?  


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