Wednesday, January 15, 2014

What gets you up each morning...

…and keeps you going through the day?  I have in mind those things that add spice and meaning to life, rather than those daily humdrum quotidian tasks we all endure.  Several days ago I caught the tail end of a TV commercial.  The program concluded with "What are you living for?"  That question has been on my mind for some days now.  As an about-to-be octogenarian, I found it an interesting question to ponder because getting out of bed is much more difficult lately.  In the abstract the question was perplexing.  I didn't think it could have referred to health—that is, why am I still alive? There is a perfectly good generic answer to this question if it addresses health: in my case I am still alive because of fairly good genes; I exercise regularly, eat healthy, have a good health plan, and admit to being a bit lucky. On the other hand, I didn't think it was a "politically incorrect" question about a deliberate termination of life: that is, why don't I just surrender to the inevitably of death?  At my stage of life it should be no surprise that such a fleeting possibility about the question crossed my mind.

Quite logically, that left me with a purpose question to consider: what is my purpose in life—perhaps better stated: what gets me up every morning and keeps me going through the day?  I immediately wondered, however, why I should need a purpose for living—why can't I just live and enjoy being alive?  I don't know why, but it appears that in general people do seem to need some kind of a larger purpose than just "hanging out and doing the living thing."

For example, Dustin Hoffman's character Rizzo in the movie "Midnight Cowboy" lived off the grid, and had to scrabble out a meager existence on the streets of New York.  What sustained him through that difficult existence, however, was his larger dream, which was finding a way into the Florida sunshine; something he never achieved.  Lack of a larger purpose may even have had something to do with the "alarming suicide numbers" among "young veterans just out of the service receiving health care from the government."  Among those in this group suicide is "nearly three times the rate of active duty troops" (Springfield News-Leader 1/11/14).  Human beings seem to need a purpose larger than "just living."

There is no one single answer to the question about what gets one up each morning and sustains one.  The answer is unique to each one of us.  An individual may have several purposes in life at the same time, which may change over time.  It is a good guess, however, that what sustains many of us would likely be related in some way to family, work, or faith—or perhaps any number of other things.

The prophet Micah suggested that what sustained him was doing what the Lord required: do justice, love kindness, and walk humbly with God (6:8).  For Koheleth, the rationalistic author of Ecclesiastes, the sustaining purpose of life was rather secular: What is good and fitting is to eat and drink and find enjoyment in life's few days of toil—it is the gift of God (Eccl 6:18-19), so eat your bread with enjoyment and drink your wine with a merry heart (Eccl 9:7).  Enjoy life with the wife whom you love all the days of your vain life (Eccl 9:9).  For Paul, the rather intolerant apostle of Christ, the purpose was deeply religious: for me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.  If it is to be life in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me.  Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell (Phil 1:21-22).

Using these three statements as points of reference, I discover that I am not motivated by the spiritual humanism I find reflected in the statement of Micah, however worthy it may be, or by the edgy sectarian religiosity I find reflected in the statement of Paul.  I am surprised to find that my ideas at this stage of life are more akin to the mildly religious secularism in Ecclesiastes.  Specifically, what gets me up in the morning is the prospect of engaging new ideas, and what sustains me through the day is the opportunity of articulating them in a well turned phrase.  My purpose in living does not need to be some grand ideal, like "tilting at windmills," for example—just something that gets me up, adds zest to cotidiana, and keeps me engaged in life.

What gets you up every morning?

Charles W. Hedrick
Professor Emeritus
Missouri State University


Anonymous said...

Literally, the unholy trinity of osteoarthritis, peripheral neuropathy and chronic gastritis get me up every day. My books, music, writings and “garden” sustain me. The reality of life sustains me. I relate to the raucous “alarm of the pileated woodpecker, the scream of the chicken hawk, the eerie cries of the coyote on the mountain above me struggling. A good dose of discussion and argument about Christianity makes my weary body come to life, too!
Dennis Dean Carpenter
Dahlonega, Ga.

Jane Terry said...

Charlie, sometimes I think you get up in the morning so you can irritate Springfield people with your News-Leader articles! :-)
As for me, apparently I'm somewhat secular, as well. I love to learn, to be useful at work, to love my friends and family, and to walk outdoors and enjoy the world. Not very profound, perhaps, αλλα ικανον!

Charles Hedrick said...

I agree. My own reasons (yes, they are always several) for getting up in the morning "may not be profound," but as you put it in Greek they "are sufficient." I am a bit surprised that more out there in "reader land" have not responded to such an easy question. We all roll out of bed every morning dreading the day (I have had some of these), excited about the prospects of the day, or bored with what the day promises.

Anonymous said...

What a thought provoking essay on one of human's biggest questions! At least it is for many humans. I might add humans are inherently motivated to live and will go to great lengths to do so even in the presence of the greatest difficulties. This strong desire to remain alive was bred into us via thousands of years of human evolution-maybe even millions since our earliest pre-human ancestors also evolved with this characteristic. But our joy in living is hugely varied from making and accumulating wealth to beneficial human relationships to partaking of the various pleasures offered in our society/environment. Charlie, you like I, appeared to enjoy Rizzo portrayed in "Midnight Cowboy" and I'll bet you enjoyed merely listening to the theme song," Everybody's Talking 'bout me". My wife and I enjoyed viewing a visiting exhibit of 19-20th century impressionist painting at the art museum yesterday, and generally anticipate some such enjoyment each day of our lives. We are masterfully designed to enjoy our earthly existence even in the presence of continued and unanticipated trials and tribulations. But again, we all evolved in this environment, so it is not unexpected.

I would say I get up each morning because of my generic & inherited nature, then to experience the pleasures of being human, then the opportunity to share living with other humans. I must admit I even derive a bit of pleasure in making and accumulating some wealth, but it is more from a desire for security than merely having the wealth or even spending it on earthly pleasures.
As another commenter mentioned, I derive a good deal of pleasure each time I read your thought provoking and scholarly ideas on various theological subjects that interest me. Thanks for asking!


Charles Hedrick said...

Good Afternoon Jim,
I must say after rethinking my essay its outlook is somewhat disappointing. It suggests that older people are only concerned with adding a bit of spice to their days. Perhaps that is true, but I recall that when I was younger I had several passionate causes that drove me through the day--never a dull moment so to speak. The question should have been: "What are you passionate about and what drives you through the day?" But I do not currently have a passionate cause that elevates my blood pressure, so I could not in good conscience raise that question. Perhaps you do? I suppose the passionate cause belongs to the prophet, the social activist, the evangelist, and the young.
But as always, thanks for the kind words.