old-manIn my work as a psychotherapist, I get to witness much confusion and suffering. “Why,” Andy asks, “after all the effort I’ve put into therapy, haven’t I found the love of my life?” Though Andy can maximize the likelihood of finding love by devoting himself to a life of self-cultivation, there is no guarantee that he will find it. And though there are understandable reasons for it all, its bad luck that Andy was born with his particular combination of genetic predispositions, wounding history and present life circumstances  that manifest in this outcome.

Sitting with this senseless suffering of the good people I know who deserve love but do not have it, I wonder on the meaning of it all.

In some ways, this is the story of humanity. We can all imagine a life of fulfillment better than what we own; we all aspire; and we are all doomed in one way or another to fall short of reaching the ultimate goal.

I was watching the film, The Old Man and the Sea last night, a beautiful flick based on Ernest Hemingway’s simple, almost child-like story of an old man who has run out of luck and hasn’t caught a fish in over 80 days. He finally snags a beauty — the largest marlin anyone has ever seen. After fighting the mighty monster for days, he wins the battle and slays the giant creature. But it is not his fate that he should gain the profit of his labors. On his way back to shore, sharks eat his fish. By the time he reaches land all that is left is a skeleton.

The key sentence of the piece is when he says, “Man can be destroyed, but he cannot be defeated.”

Such is the nature of the human spirit. We do not know if our suffering will come to an end. There is no guarantee that our efforts will be rewarded with what we want. And the pain we experience is terrible. But what the old man ends up with is greater than any fish. He gives himself fully to life itself, and ends up with the complete measure of his being. He lives from his heart. It is the human story to struggle against endless obstacles, senseless setbacks, and our own human limitations. But if we put all of ourselves into the project of our own lives — if we live as close to the good as we can, with the full measure of our intelligence, feeling, imagination, will and love — no matter the material outcome, we will end up with the greatest gift that the universe offers us: wholeness. It is the ability to say that we have fulfilled our destiny of being the unique human being we were meant to be.