An Old Man From Jersey Explains: The Meaning Of Life

This is a mini-series of comics about a naive but curious ten-year-old boy who pesters a crude but wise old man while he sits on the steps to their dingy New Jersey apartment building trying to read the newspaper.

 

An old man sits on the steps to his dingy New Jersey apartment reading a newspaper. A naive but curious ten year old boy stands on the grass nearby pestering him with questions.

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TRANSCRIPT

 

KID

Hey Mister!

OLD MAN

What do you want, Kid?

KID

Can you explain life to me?

OLD MAN

Where do you want me to start from?

KID

From the beginning.

OLD MAN

Okay, now look. If I offered you 100 billion dollars to do it, and I promised to kill your whole family if you didn’t then would you do it?

KID

Um, yeah.

OLD MAN

That’s right. You wouldn’t even have to think about it or work up the motivation because there would be no choice There’d just be one path in front of you.

KID

The heck does this have to do with life?

OLD MAN

If you don’t understand how important life is or why then you won’t have the appropriate motivation to take life as seriously as you should. Then you won’t put the appropriate amount of effort into living, but if you truly, truly understood the value of life then you wouldn’t have to debate with yourself or work up the strength to sacrifice any of the relative temptations of the world to pursue life’s highest purpose. Your motivation would be so strong there’d only be one choice, one path before you. So the first lesson you need to learn about life is how valuable it is and why.

KID

Cool beans. So how valuable is life?

OLD MAN

How old are you, kid?

KID

I’m ten and a half years old going on eleven.

OLD MAN

No you’re not. You’re closer to 14 billion years old. All the stuff in your body was there at the Big Bang. Galaxies rose and fell around you as you floated to a place where the atoms in your body could finally come together in a way that makes you, you.

KID

So you’re saying I was meant to be here since the beginning of time?

OLD MAN

…that or you’re infinitely lucky to be here.

KID

So I’m either destined or lucky to come all this way just to die!? What’s the point of existing for a second if I’m not going to exist forever? Doesn’t the brevity of life make life pointless?

OLD MAN

The finite amount of time you get to live here is infinitely valuable because of its scarcity alone. You asked me how valuable life is. Well, here’s my answer. It’s infinitely valuable.

KID

Gosh, that’s a burden of responsibility bordering on a guilt trip.

OLD MAN

…ironic that it’s coming from an indifferent universe. Anyway, given that every second of your short, irreplaceable life is infinitely valuable, that makes the following question infinitely important: What’s the most important thing you can do with your life?

KID

I don’t know how to read a clock much less answer that question.

OLD MAN

Then find someone who knows the meaning of life and ask them.

KID

Who knows the meaning of life?

OLD MAN

Nobody.

KID

In all of human history?

OLD MAN

Nobody. Ever. Anywhwere. Did you get an instruction book to life when you were born that explained everything? No, well, nobody else did either. Nobody has any idea what’s going on. There are no experts, no authorities, no grown ups.

KID

My mom knows the answer to any question I ask her. And if she didn’t know what’s right and wrong then how could she spank me for doing wrong?

OLD MAN

We might get taller, and we might memorize a lot of facts, but philosophically we’re al stuck at 5 years old guessing at life and faking our maturity level until we start believing whatever it is we’re doing is what humans are supposed to be doing.

KID

So…you’re saying you’re not the person to ask about the meaning of life?

OLD MAN

Ask as many people as many questions as you can, but never take anything for granted, because you’re fate is your responsibility. It’s up to you to figure out the meaning of life.

KID

But you just said nobody ever figured it out.

OLD MAN

…sucks, don’t it?

KID

So that’s life? You’re born lost. The End. Hope it don’t suck to be you.

OLD MAN

You watch too much anime. So what if we don’t know why we’re here? The point is we’re still here. We still gotta do something. Since we don’t have anything more important to do than figure out what we’re supposed to be doing then we may as well spend our lives figuring that out.

KID

But if we can’t figure out why we’re here then how do we figure out what to do now that we’re here?

OLD MAN

There are things we can know about ourselves and the universe we’ve found ourselves stranded in. The more of those things we know the better we can live. We might not be able to prove we lived ight according to the ultimate maxim, but we can do something good with what we’ve got, and that which a man can do he should do.

KID

Sounds good. So where do I start my education?

OLD MAN

You can’t understand how a car works until you understand the parts that make up a car. Same thing with life. And what’s life then? Life is being a walking, talking, breathing, thinking creature stranded in this great, big, beautiful, lonely, indifferent universe.

KID

So I should become a mechanic? Got it.

OLD MAN

If you want to understand life then you gotta understand the universe that gave birth to you and that you live in. Learn all the science you can, because that’ll teach you the facts that everything else is built on.

KID

So once I become a super scientist then where do I point my telescope to start studying the meaning of life?

OLD MAN

That grass you’re standing on is alive. Why don’t you just ask it?

KID

Hey grass! why are you alive? It didn’t answer.

OLD MAN

Did it do anything?

KID

No. It just sat there and grew.

OLD MAN

Well there you go then.

KID

Are you saying the meaning of life is to just sit here and grow?

OLD MAN

I’m just pointing out what life does.

KID

But our lives would be pointless if all we did was just get big, grow old and die like grass.

OLD MAN

So you’re saying this grass’s life is meaningless?

KID

The life of grass has meaning because it’s a part of the food chain.

OLD MAN

…and whatever life form is at the top of the food chain has the most meaningful life, right?

KID

Exactly, but does that mean if more advanced aliens come along it’ll make my life worthless?

OLD MAN

But does that mean if more advanced aliens come along it’ll make my life worthless?

KID

Okay, I take that back. Life is inherently valuable to each individual life form simply because it’s alive.

OLD MAN

Now that that’s settled the grass is still growing into taller grass. What are you growing into?

KID

A taller human?

OLD MAN

That’s your body. What about your mind? What about your identity?

KID

I am what I am.

OLD MAN

That’s good that you acknowledge you’re a product of your environment. Now you need to acknowledge that you’ve yet to blossom into a significantly independent identity.

KID

Do they teach how to do that in school?

OLD MAN

I’d suggest enrolling in some online psychology classes.

KID

Now are you saying the meaning of life is to be a psychologist?

OLD MAN

The grass is here to be grass, and you’re here to be you. If you have questions about how to be you then I suggest you talk to the people who study “yous.”

KID

That’s painfully logical. So who am I supposed to be trying to become while I’m here?

OLD MAN

I suspect the point is that you get to pick.

KID

There’s no wrong answer?

OLD MAN

Well, you’re the one who is going to have to live with yourself. so You get what you got.

KID

So that’s life then?

OLD MAN

…I didn’t say to take my word for it.

 

 

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