Virginia Woolf asked, “What is the meaning of life?” and then added some insight, saying, “The great revelation had never come…Instead there were little daily miracles, illuminations, matches struck unexpectedly in the dark.”
When I ask that question, no great revelations come to me either, at least nothing definitive. There seems to be a cloudiness around possible answers.
One thing that has been happening in my life lately is that my friends are dying. That seems natural when one is old; one’s friends are also old.
Two friends died within the last weeks. Danny McCracken, of North Carolina, died suddenly on November 22nd of a heart attack. He was 61. I had just visited him in mid-November. He had broken his leg earlier this year and was just getting back on the rock. One evening during our visit, he showed me photos of his family: father, mother, grandparents, uncles, aunts… “They’re all dead,” he told me. Now Danny has joined them.
Danny’s last text to me didn’t seem very profound at the time. Now I’m rereading it to try to add some meaning: “I’m going to be out of the house for a bit. You can let yourself in if you get there before me.” Danny is out of the house, and into another realm, for more than a bit. I let myself into his world and am grateful for it.
Another friend, Shannon Stegg, of Georgia, died on December 1st, found dead in his truck. He was 63. We don’t know the cause of death yet. We, along with Ralph Fickle, did the first ascent of Defective Sonar on Laurel Knob in North Carolina. It took us a couple years to finish the route. The predawn arrivals in the dark, the coffee on the Jetboil, the two-mile hike to the base… the walk out in the dark because we all forgot headlamps. We got to know each other well.
Little Daily Miracles
But did I get closer to answering Virginia Woolf’s question through these and other life experiences? I must admit, I haven’t had any great revelations. It almost seems like the more I live and learn the less sure I am of the answer.
But I have had “little daily miracles.” Discussions with Danny, struggles on the rock with Shannon… These are part of the moments that make up my life. And yes, I guess they are illuminations, moments that brought joy to my path. How unexpected are they? Very. They took me off my planned path and put some curves in it, like walking out of Laurel Knob in the dark. We worked together to get out of there along the two-mile trail. Unexpected but illuminating.
The message isn’t clear, as it shouldn’t be. We try to figure out and add meaning for being alive, which is natural and needed. In the end, though, that meaning is something we need to make sense of life. We create it and use it to navigate. The message seems to be to live your life now, fully. Look around you at the people that make it up. Now, pay attention to them.