It is nice to have lots of money and it is terrible to be poor and hungry. But the most terrible thing of all is to be useless.
So Max Lurie tells his son David, as he gradually emerges from the deep pit of the Great Depression, in Chaim Potok’s novel, In the Beginning. How true. Religious teachings may fortify our faith that every life possesses intrinsic and even infinite value; humanistic creeds speak of inalienable rights to life itself, but most of us instinctively see life as a game, and we want to be players on the field, making plays, making things happen. If we sit on the bench, largely ignored or worse forgotten, we languish, and yes we begin to question our worth. Why do I exist if only to exist? To the extent that we hopefully live in meaningful relation to others, if we’re not contributing much that probably means others provide us with more than we reciprocate, yet another baneful barometer of our unimportance and lack of value. The question is: what constitutes value? And who determines our value?
I am only now emerging from an abyss of my own, the loss of my job, the loss of my role in my community, and in a real sense the loss of my sense of self as a creator and giver to others. Since I’ve also seen death up close, I’m not sure about Max Lurie’s claim about uselessness vis a vis death. But the two often seem to be running neck and neck.