So most of my posts deal with recent works and stories, but this one is pretty ancient. I am currently re-reading Orson Scott Card’s novel Shadow Puppets. In this novel there is a section where an old Russian scientist is telling the protagonist that he is human and needs to have children. It is his fundamental human need. Man needs something to continue after him into immortality through children. Card makes this Russian character gay to stress one point. Namely that even if you have had your sexual desires “short circuited” that you still desire to have meaning in life and then only through having children.
“Listen to me, both of you. Here is the meaning of life: for a man to find a woman, for a woman to find a man,the creature most unlike you, and then to make babies with her, with him, or to find them some other way, but then to raise them up, and watch them do the same thing, generation after generation, so that when you die you know you are permanently a part of the great web of life. That you are not a loose thread, snipped off.”
This isn’t a new read for me, in fact I have had this passage saved on my computer since early 2007. What makes it profound is in the comparison to a story I read from Plato who disagrees who the premise that we all desire children but rather we all fundamentally desire to be whole.
Plato describes an origin of humanity in which there were 3 species. Men (children of the Sun), Women (children of mother earth) and what he dubs Androgynous (children of the moon – being sun and earth). These three species were different from our current state because they were a body with 2 faces 4 hands, 4 feet. Essentially the Men were two males stuck together, the Women were two females stuck together and the Androgynous were a male and female stuck together.
Zeus decided that rather than slay the creatures as he did the race of giants that he would instead split them in two. This left what we now see as males and females. In splitting us apart we began to search desperately for that which had been removed. We were like the circle looking for his missing piece in the beloved children’s classic.
As these humans searched for their other half it left many searching and craving to be with another human. And when they did find their missing half it was glorious for two became one if only for a season.
What is interesting about Plato’s story is that the Women sought their other half which was also female and likewise the Men sought other males when they were so inclined. Thus supplanting accepted homosexuality back to the days of Plato but that is beside the point.
As the story continues Plato offers a hypothetical situation in which Hephestus god and master of the forge offers to join two who had found each other. Plato states quite clearly that if offered this chance to be forever joined as one, sealed as it were, no person:
“would deny or would not acknowledge that this meeting and melting into one another, this becoming one instead of two, was the very expression of his ancient need. And the reason is that human nature was originally one and we were whole, and the desire and pursuit of the whole is called love”
Now in an era of Christianity this story takes a different path as seen in Orson Scott Card’s novel, but there might even be a third way of looking at this meaning of life. Instead of a separation between two humans as rather a separation between God and Man and so our searching is that of becoming whole and one with God.
I know this is a big one to ask, but what do you think is the meaning of life? Having Kids? Finding a lost piece of yourself in a soulmate? Finding God? or something else entirely? 42?