The subject of meaning teased me in my youth though it never was allowed to flourish until I started college and began to escape biblical literalism. This escape was into a gradual appreciation of the metaphor which didn’t fully materialize until a prescient friend gave me a copy of Shakespeare’s sonnets and W.H. Auden’s collected poetry in my mid thirties. My life has not been the same.
Meaning involves intricate and intimate experience with difference. Until one encounters meaning, he lives in a sterile universe of sameness usually marching lockstep with those of a similar orientation to life. A quest for meaning inevitably leads one to a face-to-face encounter with meaninglessness for the one cannot exist without the other. For example, there is no blue without non-blue. Now I have been blessed as my venture into meaninglessness has been gentle for it can drive one stark raving mad. I think I am fortunate to have what the poet John Keats described as “negative capability,” the ability to live with pronounced self-doubt, insecurity, and emotional fragility. It is no accident that since the gift of poetry in my mid-thirties I have been immersed in poetry and literature for there I find metaphor which allows me to find an anchor in what would otherwise be an overwhelming mystery, a mystery that the linear thinking in which I was stuck for 35 years cannot abide.
One of my most beloved poets is Emily Dickinson and she wrote a poem which so beautifully captures the internal descent where this meaning is found.