How do you explain the meaning of life to kids who grow up while the world around them is burning?
How do you answer their worried questions about their future, when people are are dying from meaningless violence by the minute, all over the world.
I’m asking, because I know I’m not alone thinking about this, and also not alone feeling helpless.
Earlier on, in this blog, I’ve written about my sister-in-law, who all of a sudden decided to become a nun. She started out in a medieval convent in Spain, but then moved back to Sweden in search for another order to join.
Today, she has been accepted as a novice within the Birgittine order and currently lives in their convent in Rome, Italy.
When she told me she wanted to become a nun, I was perplexed. Why would any enlightened, successful, emancipated, working woman decide to exclude herself from the world and go live in a convent, where you have to ask permission about absolutely everything? Well, prejudiced as they may seem, these are relevant questions when living in a secular society.
I tried to get her to give me a straight answer, but only got snippets of information here and there. It was a personal choice she didnt have to explain to anyone – just like I wasn’t required to explain why I chose my way of life.
But then I went to Berlin for Prix Europa last fall, and sat in on the radio documentary session for a bit. We listened to about one hour of radio, where witnessess described what is happening in Israel and Palestine. Both sides where portrayed, and the suffering was endless, grim and horrifying. The session left me with an immense sadness. When you are hurt and your family is hurt, it takes a lot to forgive and move on.
As I sat there, I also realised that reading statements about different kinds of violence, was what my sister-in-law actually did every day for a couple of years. She was stationed in the area as an expert on human rights. She had to read about these events every day, trying to decide if there was something anyone could do about it.
Once she said:
I felt totally useless. There is nothing I can do to help humanity. Except praying.
Soon after, she left for the convent.
After having heard the documentary, I understood her to some extent. Who hasn’t felt the need to get away from it all? Haven’t you also wanted to forget about suffering, climate change, equality battles, starvation and war? I mean, who hasn’t thought of breaking out and stop taking responsibility?
But most of us don’t. We keep hanging in there.
So what do we tell our kids?
Can we tell them, that in this world there actually is a possibility for one person to make a difference? We can’t all be world famous for doing good, but we can do something. We can be a good friend, we can refrain from bullying, we can lend a hand and we can get engaged in areas that we care about – be it environment, fight against poverty, peace movements or education.
Isn’t it true that most of us only want some basic things in life?
I’m thinking of safety, time with family and friends, a job, food and good health. If you have that, you must consider yourself to be a comparatively lucky person, right?
So, let’s say we have this. The next step would be to try to give something back to society.
In fact, giving makes us happier. There are several studies that show that helping others deliberately, increases your own happiness. And even if we don’t have much to give, there’s always something one can do. My sister-in-law gives her prayers. Lot’s of people give to charity or take time to help someone out. There are several lists of the world’s top philantrophists as well as prominent givers of different countries. But giving lots of money isn’t the only way, and most of us don’t have that possibiliy. Instead we can take comfort in that there are as many ways to giving as there are people on this earth. No path is better, it’s the collective efforts to try to build a better world that will get us there in the end.
It’s just important to remember that as long as there is life, there is hope.
If we succumb to feeling hopelessness about the state of the world, there won’t be enough convents out there to accomodate us.
See also: Life Changing Choices