What is the meaning of life?

Dave Canovas

This is a question that could be borne out of disappointment, grief, depression or even mere boredom. Whichever it is, I do not welcome it. It nags and gets me into deep thought. Deep thinking, I have come to understand, tends to be more of a liability for me than an asset.

No matter how I tried, this question does pop up from time to time and I really have to grapple with it but now I have been learning and been very quick to reframe it in a way that would make me avoid the pit of futile deep thinking. WHAT MAKES LIFE, LIFE? – is a question that really sounds better in my head in that it provokes “doing” and “action” rather than just merely meaningless pondering.

So what makes life, life?

Make “ordinary” things “extra-ordinary” again.

Very often, these “ordinary” things are being made redundant by our life’s routines. Routine for me is such a killer. We have always had these “things” in our lives – talked with, played with, used, eaten, lived in or enjoyed. These have become such a part of our routine already that we have overlooked their importance. Getting your dream job may have heaped our “hallelujahs” then. I wonder if we are as grateful for it, now. We only realise how much our loved ones mean to us, once we lose them. In most days, they tend to be relegated to just being the “ordinary”. I remember crying when we bought our first house but now I am finding myself wishing it was bigger. These thoughts could all be counter-productive so the solution is to make these things that seemed “ordinary” now, “extra-ordinary” again. Bite an apple like it is the sweetest and juiciest apple you have ever tasted. Drive to work with zest like it is your first dream job. Hug your wife and children like you are never going to see them again. Live your life as if it were your last. Well, you know, it could really be your last. I am really fortunate to teach pre-school age children everyday. They seem to never lose the joy. They always remind me to see the spiritual sense in even the most mundane of things.

Always think and strive to learn and avoid meaningless pondering. Why your neighbours are better off than you are, why you couldn’t be in two places at the same time, why you think people are mean to you or to each other, why people unnecessarily honk their horns during traffic – seem to be pointless thoughts because it gets you nowhere other than to spiral down. Thinking and striving to learn, on the other hand, is one built on purpose and could be actualised into something of value. Recently, I came across quotes from Ralph Waldo Emerson which I have been reading over and over again. These are short but really meaningful and have great potentials to make me a better person. I have been constantly listening to Fr. Andrew Ricci’s podcast and have been enriched by his wisdom. Striving to learn new things is a start of greater things.

Act on your knowledge. Implement your plans. I spent my whole life wondering about the ‘what if’s” and the “what could’ve been’s”. I resolve to not waste another minute of my life focusing my energies on these, instead, to start to do, to act and venture into things I am most afraid of and in the process, add value to my life. What is the value of your plan if it remains a plan forever? At my kindergarten, we envision creating a community garden that could benefit our families. Sounds like a big vision but would not come into fruition if we do not attempt to start to work towards it. Whenever I gain new knowledge that deepens my Catholic faith for example, I share them with others hoping that it could impact on their lives as it continue to impact on mine. The home is a good starting point of sharing these. I make myself visible and available for other people and offering a life of service, as much as I can.

Always find time to connect with self, others and God through prayer. Prayer is a respite for the tired, an assurance for the weak, a celebration for the happy, a feast for the soul of the peaceful. Prayer can be all of these. We pray in all our seasons not only when we are in need. Prayer also transcends distance and time and allows us to be connected with the people we love. I have loved ones from the Philippines, USA, Canada, Middle East and Israel but I always feel that prayer still binds us together whenever I remember them in my prayers. Prayer binds me to God. It is always a wonderful place to quell fears, to heal, to feel love, to unburden myself and to remain faithfully connected with God’s promises.

What makes life, life, I learned, are overcoming yourself and getting past your past and your nagging meaningless thoughts. What makes life, life; is to start to put things together beginning with the little things and adding them all up to create a bigger picture of continuous learning, connecting and devoting to a life of prayer. That is the life worth living for with actions all done in the name of the Father, of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.

How can I teach Christian values in a nonsectarian organisation?

My first reaction was disbelief. Then it turned into amazement. That was when I first saw a 4-year old child holding a hammer, a real child-size hammer, as she carefully drove the nail down into the wood. I thought, “Wait a minute! You could get hurt.” Of course, I hid my panic in front of the other teacher. Later, I was proven wrong because the nail was hammered down into the wood, I must say, quite neatly. The learning? Never underestimate a child.

What followed were years of my love affair with the New Zealand early childhood curriculum where one focus is the learning of dispositions, for example, the child’s ability to take risks, to resolve conflict peacefully, to help themselves, to persist and not to give up easily, to ask for help when needed, among many others. All these learned, while they play.

I have been asked time and again, “Is that all they would do in the New Zealand early childhood setting? To play?”. I always reply with the most open mind because I know they ask, bringing their own cultural beliefs with them. Don’t get me wrong, but other “skills set” like writing, counting, drawing – all get learned in the play process. I might go in further detail how, in my succeeding articles.

Lately, I have been yearning to include Christian values in my teaching. Where I work now, is a nonsectarian organisation but we embrace ALL people, regardless of cultural or religious backgrounds with so much respect. A child, is never to be taken in isolation from his/her background. There goes my initial challenge – how do I teach Christian values to young children? Years back, I had an experience with another teacher who firmly opposed to the use of Amene in our Karakia (prayer) before eating because it is a Christian way of doing. I am very fortunate that where I work now, there is so much respect for who I am as a Catholic just as we have respect to each others’ beliefs and religion.

Having celebrated recently Christmas party with our kindergarten’s whanau (family) and tamariki (children), I have realised that our ways at kindergarten is very Christian, all this time. The tight hugs from parents while saying “Thank you for what you are doing to my child”; the conversation exchanges during the party showed immense interest in who I was and where I come from beyond kindy (kindergarten) and the massive attendance of people in the party as if saying, “We want to be part of this community.” – are all visible marks of being a Christian; being one with others, showing gratefulness and caring and loving others. Looking further back, the way we encourage children to use kind words and hands with each other, to help others when they fall from a bike, to give a teacher a glass of water or simply to listen to other people while they are talking; are all living evidences that I am including Christian values in my teaching.

There goes the answer, to my own question. I have been practicing Christian teaching all along. Now I see clearly no conflict at all in what I do as a teacher in what people likes to call a non-sectarian organisation, to what I believe in, as a Catholic.