Dear Dirty America


Don’t You Know the Purpose of Life?

Don’t You Know the Purpose of Life?
February 07
09:30 2019


Some humans never evolve past the idea that life’s major purpose is to be happy. Others think this is a diminutive, bankrupt philosophy.

But don’t actually try to tell them that. People don’t listen like they used to. In a healthy society, the soundest opinion is graciously accepted, but in one where people think they’re on this earth to be happy and nothing more, all other thoughts on life just don’t stack up.

credit: access

I was in the coffee shop, and the two young women beside me were deeply concerned about something, and the one nearer to me kept saying in exasperation, “The purpose of life is to be happy.” She could have added, don’t you know? It was supposed to be comforting for her friend.

I was chatting with my friend, the cultural philosopher Hubert Humdinger [pronounced hum-din-jer] on Skype, and he kept hearing her voice drilling his ears, even though he was thousands of miles away. Finally, in mid-conversation, his patience wore thin.

“That’s not the purpose of life!” he roared into my earphones. “Who’s saying that? For God’s sake, who’s saying that?”

I turned the computer so that the camera faced the young woman and her friend. They were oblivious to me, hopped up as they were on tall, sugary caffeine drinks.

Humdinger, not afraid of a little public skirmish after all the social war he’s been through, laid into them.

“Wake up and smell the toast,” he shouted. “Happiness is a byproduct of ignorance. People slip into some happiness when they’ve been able to numb themselves to the realities of this existence. If they’d just wake up, they’d realize suffering is as much the goal of life as is joy or happiness.” He raised a finger. “That’s when a true satisfaction sets in to inure you against the follies of living.”

Because I had my earphones plugged in, the great cultural philosopher’s shouting and hollering pounded my ears only.

The girls, though, must’ve felt his eyeballs on them. They turned to look at the computer and the gruff, bald man with the blocky white teeth gnashing across the screen.

“Who’s that?” the girl asked.

“He’s famous in Europe,” I told her. “He wanted a view of the coffee shop, so I’m spinning him around. You know, like a virtual tour.”

“How come his face is so red?” her friend asked.

“He’s got hypertension.”

“He’s so cute with his face so red like that,” she said. “But I worry he’ll have a stroke.”

In my earphones, Humdinger was describing the Lakota Indian view of life as a circle, where joy and suffering were intermingled, but the people didn’t see the suffering as something from which to run, but rather a gift from the Creator–an opportunity to find out more about themselves.

“Both the joy and the pain, that’s what makes the human human!” he bellowed, noticing the girls’ faces leering close to the camera. He laughed a cruel little chuckle, like all the world had stacked the cards against him and the two girls. “All things fade away, girls, all things fade away.”

The girl motioned that I should let her speak to him. I unplugged the earphones and Humdinger’s voice crackled over the vibrating computer speakers. I muted my old friend so that the entire coffee shop didn’t take notice of us, but he’d still be able to hear her.

“Sir,” she said, “listen to me.” Her face must’ve been gigantic on Humdinger’s computer screen. Her nose nearly touched the little camera at the top. “Listen, I don’t know why you’re angry, but your friend says you’re always like that.” She looked at me and made a face, as if to say sorry! “But just remember, it’s important to try to stay happy. Especially at your age. You know? At your age, you just gotta do things that make you happy.”

The screen went black after that.

“I sure hope he got the message,” the girl said. “I had to tell my grandpa the same exact thing. They get so worked up about stuff.”

I carried Humdinger home in my laptop case, not sure when it would be safe to open the computer again.

[header photo courtesy of Infrogmation of New Orleans; smiling statue photo courtesy of access]

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