I came across this story from New Scientist about what makes life worth living if you take away religion. From a brain perspective, there ought to be a good reason why a person feels like bothering with this life. It ain’t easy. It ain’t pretty. And it feels like it goes on forever. Beyond that, there is much suffering in life. I thought briefly about what it would feel like to have a son travel to Iraq and die in some useless, futile IED explosion. How would I go on living? Moreover, a recent memorial of the victims of the Oklahoma City bombing showed mothers who lost babies in that pseudo-patriotic, mind-numbingly senseless terrorist act.

As a sidenote, isn’t it ironic that we reacted to the terrorist bombings of 9/11 in quite a different way from Oklahoma City? Why didn’t our National Guard descend upon the psychos in America with their radical views of our government? Because we are a so-called free country. Free to bomb a Federal building for the very same reason our towers were bombed: to make a political statement. To take lives while doing so. And to either run and hide to continue fighting, or get caught and die by the state, as Timothy McVeigh pretended to foresee. In his taped confession he actually says to the victims’ families, “get over it.” He wouldn’t show fear when he was put to death by the state. He pretended he not only saw it coming but welcomed it: that was too easy of an out for that puny tyrant.

And then, last night, Frontline brings the report of the boys are used for sexual favors in Afghanistan. They are made to start when they are very young.

What about the Holocaust? What about Jim Jones? What about Charles Manson?

Without the explanation of God how could anyone make sense of any of it? But for me I always ask the question, WITH the explanation of God how could anyone make sense of it. I’m sure God is a perfectly nice Man who maybe gets jealous, perhaps bored on occasion – perhaps he’s texting while driving or sleeping through fire alarms. But it seems to me that God apologists have no trouble explaining away God’s lowly job performance of late. He works in mysterious ways. Oh, think of how much corporate criminals, corrupt politicians, and all around sleezoids could get away with if people let them follow God’s work study habits?

It isn’t God’s job to fix our lives – that is what religious people will tell you. He’s just there to pray to. And if you happen to win $1,000,000 you will say that God was looking out for you and when you survive a plane crash you thank God. If you win an award, He gets all of the credit. So I guess I’m wondering how it is that people can give God so much credit for the good stuff but then never hold Him accountable for the bad stuff? Like you know, the continued suffering of young boys in Afghanistan and children all over the world.

But I didn’t really want to talk about God. What makes life worth living, as Woody Allen ponders in the clip above. When he finally concludes that one of the things is Tracy’s face, one tends to wince at the idea of an old man loving a 17 year-old’s face and her loving his back — yes, it makes my skin crawl too but it is still a great movie. Still, if you take out the sex part, there are few things that make life worth living than the face of a child, especially your child.

One can bob around life with no purpose but I’ve always believed that our purpose is to help other people and animals and be parents. It’s really as simple as that. Everything else is ego-driven nonsense. Can you help people by writing great movies? Yes. Novels? Absolutely. Porn? For sure. Being an artist does contribute immeasurably to society. For me, though, it boils down to one thing — the people I love (not to get all Laura Dern in Jurassic Park on you).

These little creatures, my daughter and my niece’s eye sit on my computer and do Photo Booth whenever they get the chance. And the photos are always girl-silly. I love finding new ones on my computer that were taken when I was out of the room and they always remind me that youth is fleeting, that my love couldn’t be any stronger for these kids.

The New Scientist story talks about having and fulfilling goals as being a primary source of not killing oneself. Therefore, feeling purposeless would probably be a REASON TO kill oneself. Feeling purposeless, I think, leads down two paths. The first would be narcissism. As in, “I don’t really have a purpose so I will focus on myself only.” And the other path would be despair. As in, “I’m no good to anybody.”

For me, when I hit 25 thoughts of mortality kicked down the door and cornered me with terror. I am surprised that I emerged from that paralysis with ambition and goals intact. But it hit me: this is all temporary. I have a shelf life. I could not only die any minute.

One tries not to think about the worst ways to die but unfortunately, I do have a list and I’ve concluded that I could tolerate pain more than I could tolerate fear – thus, a plane crash or death-by-serial killer would come first (although I’m sort of out of the zone of serial killers now that I’m getting on in years). A long, slow illness where my kid would have suffer along with me and then be left without me is probably the worst of all. You see, at some point in life one stops worrying about one’s own death and starts worrying about the death of one’s child, and also how one’s own death WOULD impact that child.

So that rules out suicide. That just wipes it off the slate for me, which means that in itself, caring about the pain of one’s child, is a reason to endure.

So, the kid and kids in my life – from my sisters’ kids to my best friend’s kid to the kids I used to work with at an elementary school – they make life worth living and they are number one. But what about the other stuff? Let’s run it down for twenty, shall we?

2. Coffee. How shallow of me but it is really true. Some days coffee is the only thing I have to look forward to. It makes every minute of the morning pleasurable.
2. California. I know I could never live anywhere else. The blue sky, the wide sky, the general warmth – the sea, the mountains, the city — even the white trash zones, of which there are many, this is my home and I will live here for the rest of my (hopefully very long) life.
3. My effing iphone and my effing Macbook. Let’s just say all Apple products.
4. Cooking – the combination of flavors one can create – spending time in the kitchen, even though I really am a pretty terrible cook (getting better) is one of the joys I get out of life. I overcook things a lot. I overspice, I oversalt, I burn. But I love it.
5. Sex. I don’t do it anymore but I think it is one of the things that makes life worth living and certainly our human life. Humans have the best sex in the animal kingdom, you gotta admit. With a big brain comes a lot of responsibility.
6. Movies. The best ones I will watch over and over again. Even crappy ones I’ll watch over and over. I am just someone whose lived a life through movies. I grew up disappearing in them and I continue to disappear in them. My daughter began going to the movies with me when she was six months old (don’t worry – I timed it to her naps so that she wouldn’t disturb the other VERY LOUD ANYWAY moviegoers). So she loves movies too now and we often quote them back to each other. I can’t tell you the pride that goes along with THAT.
7. Stuff to know. There is still so much to know, so much to learn. And the more I find out, the more I want to know about science and history and art. To that end, podcasts of late have been invaluable. I’ve gotten into “Stuff You Missed in History Class” and “Stuff You Should Know.” I also listen to Fresh Air on NPR religiously. If I could I would go back to college and take all history classes. I wish I could. Go back to college.
8. Excitement for the future. I don’t know about you but one of my laments is that I can’t be alive 200 years from now, or 500 years from now to see where we humans end up. What will happen with stem cell research, and our obsession with the online world for communication. Where will we go from here? My daughter and I watched Sleeper the other day and in some ways I wish I could do that – wake up in the future just as I am now. Because I can’t it makes me want to live as long as I possibly can. I think of my grandmother who was born in 1907 and died in 1994. She saw so much progress in her lifetime. As one gets older one tends to appreciate the aged.
9. My best friend Clara. She is always there to talk to all of the time. And she always listens to my dumb problems. She, with her hands full of a hard life chats with me on a daily basis, gives me advice and makes life not only worth living but much more tolerable than it would otherwise be.
10. My kooky family. My two sisters, who are my best friends, my mother – who is determined and focused, which has made her successful. My moody and talented father. My handsome and rock solid brother, his son, my nephew. And all of our extended family whom are now readily available on Facebook. So that means Facebook gets in there.
11. The internets. Without the internets I wouldn’t have my daughter, nor would have as many great pals as I do. Nor would I have an income. Ahem.
12. Paris. PARIS. Paris.
13. Jon Stewart and the Daily Show. Of course. And you can add Bill Maher to that list.
14. Museums. Isn’t it cool that we make art and then put it in places to appreciate and admire it?
15. Tastys: French wine, cherry tomato marinara sauce, roasted garlic, creme brulee, Sharkey’s fish tacos, red licorice, summer peaches, organic blueberries, tomatoes on the vine, a well-cooked, organic steak, strawberry milkshake, crispy eel, fried calamari, plantains, Lorna Doones, Bolognesese ragu, the two best meals I’ve ever had in Florence ten years apart. Strawberry cream cake from Chinatown. Belgian white beer.
16. Blooming Jasmine, Gardenia, orange blossoms in the air. Sigh and swoon.
17. The icy cold water in Matilija Creek after a long summer hike uphill.
18. Music: Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Van Morrison, The Rolling Stones, the Beatles, The Who, PJ Harvey, the Counting Crows, Lou Reed and Laurie Anderson, Chrissie Hynde, Liz Phair, Sarah McLachlan, Tori Amos.
19. Feeling the ocean on one’s feet. Stepping into the ocean and tasting salt water. Staring at the waves and maybe catching site of a dolphin.
20. Being a mommy. Raising another person. Watching her grow.