“[One] must fill [one’s] life with meaning, meaning is not automatically given to life. It is hard work to fill one’s life with meaning.”
I stumbled upon this quote, taken from Chaim Potok’s brilliant masterpiece, “The Chosen,” as I pursued the Internet and as I sat at my computer, I began to cry. Potok, in his simple yet eloquent way, articulated beautifully what I’ve been feeling for months.
Let me be clear – I’m not questioning my faith or my marriage. Judaism truly gives my soul purpose and I love my wife with all my heart. The “meaning” that I’ve been so desperately trying to discover in my life is something outside of the things I know to be true (both my faith and my marriage), something that will challenge my mind and cause my heart to dance and while there are times I believe I’ve found the elusive “meaning,” there are times when the “hard work” involved is greater than my body can withstand.
Since this past summer, I’ve had trouble with my knees. Initially, my right knee was periodically sore and a prescription anti-inflammatory all but made the problem disappear. Unfortunately, a nasty fall tore the meniscus in my left knee and left me facing surgery in August. After a series of MRIs and x-rays and despite what turned out to be unnecessary surgery I was diagnosed with degenerative osteoarthritis, an extremely painful condition that has left both my knees without cartilage and made knee-replacement surgery an absolute necessity. However, before a surgeon will agree to the surgery, I must lose at least 20% of my body weight which in-and-of-itself is a tremendous struggle for me.
The pain I experience is constant and is currently controlled with a narcotic pain-reliever. I will not (and legally can’t) drive and/or function while taking the drug so throughout the day I make do with Tylenol and walking very deliberately and very slowly. Fortunately, my insurance company finally authorized a series of three injections (directly into my knee) of a drug called Orthovisc that will hopefully surround my knees with a gel-like fluid, easing the pain I experience (the first injection was painful and after nearly a week, I’m still sore but can walk slightly better; injection number two is this Friday).
What does this have to do with finding “meaning?” It complicates the hard work. It’s all I can think about. It creates a cloak of depression that acts as a barrier between what I am physically able to do and the things I know I should do to help me achieve my goals. It infiltrates my thought process and makes concentration an exercise in futility. And it keeps me from focusing on the things that, at 50, I should be focused on. Instead of working at tasks that give my life “meaning,” I work at making it through the day so I can come home, take a pill, and stop hurting.
In an odd way, Potok’s words give me a sense of hope. Something tells me that if I am able to endure my current physical challenges, I have the capacity to one day work hard enough to indeed fill MY life with the “meaning” I not only want but so desperately need.