by Juanita Fourie
“What is the meaning of life, Teacher?” the young boy asked The Philosopher one afternoon on a day that was neither restless nor restful.
A perfect day for whys and whats of the heart it was.
The Philosopher sighed inwardly, for the question of the meaning of life itself was as old as the story the many lines on his face told. The eyes belonging to the one asking the question, however, stared at him with a passionate eagerness of the kind that lives on the faces of those with youthful hearts.
The boy blinked only once before The Philosopher picked up one of the many rust-coloured leaves left behind by the giant oak tree they were sitting under, here where the earth had carried autumn’s leafy scent far across the meadow and its many small hills.
“Would this tree have known the deep joy of purpose, had it kept its bark, body, acorns, and leaves to itself?” The old man’s grey eyes met the boy’s brown ones, his question barely one at all.
He then pointed in the direction to where the river was flowing, and waited for the boy’s eyes to follow before asking the next question. “Will the river continue its flow if it has no reason for doing so?” the question in his voice continued.
The young one kept his answers in his mouth, for he knew The Philosopher’s questions desired no words in reply; at least not at that very moment in time.
It was only when his teacher said the following that he finally understood the meaning of life:
“The oak tree finds life not in its mere existence as a tree, but in the many gifts it continues to give. Its bark brings medicine to those in need, and its body carries wood strong and hard enough to live on forever in the things created by man. To the many animals its acorns bring something to eat, and to you youngsters its leaves bring laughter and togetherness when you play in it.
“And just like this oak tree finds its meaning by giving, so it also is for the river. For as long as it flows, the river brings forth life, and this life that it lives for is exactly what inspires it to flow, day after day, season after season. It is the very thing that gives meaning to its name.”
While these words still lingered in the air, The Philosopher leaned back against the tree to absorb with all his senses the gentle autumn breeze that rippled through the tall grass.
His grey eyes now carried a hidden smile, for he knew the young mind sitting next to him to have found a secret treasure, and that this treasure would wear its secret no more, should the young boy choose to breathe life into it.
For now, the old man closed his eyes and soaked up the comfortable silence that exists between those who hold the knowing that life will only ever carry meaning when lived not for oneself, and that a life lived for others, will continue to bring many blessings to the names of those who do so, even long after their lives have ended.
Juanita Fourie is a South African writer, depression fighter, good vibes igniter, aspiring wordsmith, cute daydreamer, well-mannered little weirdo and Pringles addict.