Yesterday, I met an 84 year old man. A real gentleman with an impeccable sense of style, and a twinkle in his eyes. He and I talked about his life now, and his life before when he could live an independent life. Billy used to be an artist, and a real good one. Now he spends most of his days sitting in the front lobby of the institution where he lives, or lying down on his bed, trying to sleep away his boredom. Towards the end of our conversation, Billy goes deep into the truth of his current existence:
"It's a shame that I don't get to do much anymore. I want to feel useful. I'd like to contribute something and not just exist. That seems like such a waste of life."
Yes, we all want to feel useful. Doing what I do, serving others, writing on this blog, engaging in mindfulness practice, are all meaningful activities that give me a sense of purpose. Without those, I would be reduced to non existence. For those like Billy who are living with crippling forgetfulness, the ability to lead a purposeful life depends on the assistance from others. It requires digging into the person's past and a careful observation of his response to current situations to find out with that person the specific activities that will enhance his life. For Billy, we determined that playing around with clay and making sculptures is still of interest to him. He wants to give it a try.
What gives meaning to your life?