There seems to be a hole in the middle of everyday life, as if a rock had been thrown through a plate-glass window. But instead of being a physical hole, one could call this a “meaning hole,” an absence that cannot be defined except to say that it hurts. Even if they cannot analyze the effect that lack of meaning is having on their lives, people feel it, and as a result a sick sadness hangs over things, even the best things.
How many people experience love, freedom, faith, or devotion as deeply as they really want to? How many cannot feel these things at all and are left with guilt and blame instead?
One of the strangest phenomena of postmodern culture is this optimism over death: doctors and therapist are urging us to make death, not just a positive experience, but the positive experience of a lifetime.
Sickness has always had an element of escapism in it. As children we were coddled by our mothers whenever we ran a fever, and seriously ill adults are still given “intensive care.” But if a terminal illness is seen as escapism carried to its ultimate, one cannot help but ask, “Is this life so terrible that escape is its greatest reward?”
I do not want to parody this issue, having strong beliefs of my own that the fear of death is very crippling and needs to be overcome at the deepest level. But it is disturbing to think that our culture provides us with so little opportunity to confront the basic meaning of life that sickness and death have filled the void by becoming conversion experiences.
We are weakest when sick, least able to summon the resources that are needed for real transformation. If people are not transformed before the crisis, they may find themselves with not enough time to enjoy the life that suddenly seems so worthwhile.
Adapted from Unconditional Life: Discovering the Power to Fulfill Your Dreams, by Deepak Chopra (A Bantam Book, 1991).