The Meaning of Life

Epiphanies usually come at the oddest times. Strange moments birth ideas that blossom into either absolutely nothing… or a golden opportunity. They often materialize when performing a mundane task or in that twilight between sleep and almost awake when we don’t yet have the cognitive ability to scribble them down.

“That idea was so great I’ll remember it,” we think before we doze back to sleep.

When morning actually comes, all we remember is that we had an idea and it was a great one. But the actual content is long gone.

I had one this weekend, though – and I was awake. I knew it was the mother of all epiphanies the minute it popped into my brain. It is:

The meaning of life

I kid you not! It’s time to buy the robes, find my mountaintop, and plop down. I figured it out – the big idea! And it is simpler than any philosopher ever tried to reason.

It started thusly.

My children love having pets. We have two dogs, three cats, and they have always begged for more. My issue with the pets we have and the pets they want is that I seem to be the only one qualified to clean up the poo. With three cats, this is a daily requirement. I think my kids are recreational pet lovers; they like the fun stuff, but not the dirty obligations that are a companion to pet ownership.

I have lived my life on the premise that there is nothing I can get on my skin that I can’t wash off. When I relayed that to my daughter, she just said, “Ewwwww!!”

So I clean the litterbox daily and every Saturday I pick up three to five pounds of poop in the yard. I don’t love it, but I like having pets and understand the responsibilities involved. It hit me Saturday while I had the scooper in hand, that this is it.

The meaning of life is cleaning up crap. Wiping the backside. Picking up piles. Scooping the poopy.

You laugh, but(t) think about life in stages.

  1. Someone else selflessly wipes your backside.
  2. Through the joy of education and experiment, you learn to wipe your own.
  3. With experience, you get better at it and refine the skill until it is automatic.
  4. If you’re lucky enough, something comes into your life (animal or tiny human) that you deem worthy of wiping or cleaning up their crap. And you do.
  5. You are no longer able to reach your backside and must depend on another. If you’ve loved well, someone is willing. If not, you’d better have cash.

 

It’s the circle of poop. And it moves us all.

 

Think of the parallel to life as we know it. We move from a selfish human who needs someone else to a self-sufficient master of our domain to eventually selflessly doing something dirty and disgusting for others. This is a tangible metaphor for what a life well-lived becomes: from selfish to selfless – served to servant.

 

There are some tiny humans whose diapers I changed many years ago, much to my chagrin. I admit that I did not wipe nearly as many shiny hinys as my wife and I was rarely gleeful about it. But I did it. And while they moved to stage 3, I cleaned up after all of their beloved pets. And hopefully… hopefully… when I revert to stage five, those children will realize that the circle of poop must continue. Because I’ve got some surprises in store for them.

Throwing Marshmallows to Bears

My family is forced to endure many quirks. It’s part of the price of admission to my ride and I seem to latch on to more as the years go by.

One constant is my love of roadside attractions. I absolutely adore them! The cheesier the better. Who doesn’t get the urge to stop when they see the sign for the home of Superman, Metropolis, Illinois or the world’s largest ball of string?

Years ago, I was headed to Gatlinburg with my oldest two girls when I saw a sign in Cherokee, North Carolina that said you could feed bears. Think we stopped?

Of course we stopped. We bought our little bags of bear food and soon found ourselves standing on a walkway looking down into pits that housed the massive creatures. They were looking up and waving at us for their food.

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Their food? Marshmallows.

Think of the ridiculous nature of the scene. My curly, blonde little girls, weighing somewhere between 30 and 50 pounds each at the time, awkwardly throwing little puffy balls of sugar at docile-looking 400 to 500 pound bears. At some point, I noticed my girls were actually having a picnic with them – throw one, eat one, throw one, etc. and the bears were getting restless. They never marveled at the size of the bear or the unnatural setting – they were just enjoying their marshmallows with their furry companions as if seated on a checkered blanket together.

Sometimes you witness a scene such as that and it makes you wonder at its absurdity.

But we do the same thing. Let me construct another scene for you.

In February of 2014, our youngest daughter, Kylie was in the 6th grade. We had just gotten back from a Disneyworld vacation when her knee started to hurt. Doctors initially thought it was from all of the walking we did. In March they moved on to a growth plate issue, and then in April we heard the words, “Your child has cancer.”

What I learned on that day was that if I had gotten the same cancer as Kylie had when I was her age, I would have had the same treatment. You heard that right. The treatments for many childhood cancers have changed little in the last forty years.

With all of the scientific, medical, and technological advancements we’ve made in four decades, when it comes to childhood cancer, we are still only throwing marshmallows at bears.

Marshmallows won’t stop the problem bear – they won’t even slow it down if it is really angry. You can hurl all the sweets at it you want but that bear will keep on coming. Like a low budget horror film, the more you stop to throw, the closer the bear gets with its fangs, claws, and mighty roar.

And the childhood cancer bear is getting hungrier. Incidences are up 24% over the last forty years and it is the leading cause of death by disease for children.

So what are we doing as a society?

Sadly, very little.

 Consider this:

  • All childhood cancers combined receive less than 4% of federal cancer research funding – and overall funding dollars took a massive hit in the 2018 budget.
  • Prostate cancer receives 5%.
  • Since 1980, only 4 drugs have been approved specifically for children.
  • 1 in 5 children do not survive.

I picked on prostate cancer and there is a good reason.

  • The average age at diagnosis for childhood cancer is 6 years-old.
  • The average age at diagnosis for prostate cancer is 66 years-old.

The overall cure rate for all childhood cancers combined is 83% and prostate cancer is 95%. Yet our government is spending more research dollars there than on all childhood cancers.

You tell me one 66-year-old grandfather with prostate cancer who would say this is fair! Kylie’s granddaddy, a prostate cancer survivor wouldn’t. In fact, he prayed with the rest of us for God to take him instead.

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The marshmallows we threw at Kylie’s bear were inadequate, unsafe, and in the end, ineffective. We must find new ways to beat cancer and private funding of cutting-edge research is crucial. If we stand outside the pit and trust the government to do it, that bear will keep coming for our children.

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Remember those bears that we visited when my girls were young? Soon after we left, two tribal elders fought on the bears’ behalf and the park was closed down. All of the bears were moved to a new life with room to roam. No more marshmallows hurled into enclosures. Real food.

This is what we need for children with cancer. We need to stop throwing marshmallows and work together to find the solution. Our children are depending on us.