The Meaning of Life (A Boy's Tale)

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Literary Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
Very often, when searching for one thing, we find another. It is this lesson that Danny learns as he quests for the Meaning of life. And it is this lesson, that soon, will change him forever.

Submitted: June 04, 2008

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Submitted: June 04, 2008

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A A A


The Meaning of Life

(A Boy's Tale)

Written

By

Joseph McCormick

Danny Thomas, age sixteen, sat at the town's local malt shop, sipping away at his thick vanilla shake. And as he sat, quietly consuming this scrumptiously frosty mixture, he just happen to zero in on a conversation that was vigorously taking place in the next booth over from him. It was a conversation that seemed to revolve around something about life, but even this he couldn't be sure of. That was mainly because their words were muffed do to the fact that he was quite a distance from them, and also because, there was a substantial amount of noise coming from his left where a young waitress, who, dressed in a blue short skirt, white apron, and thin white blouse, was quickly cleaning and wiping down a table in anticipation of the next customer that would soon, no doubt, be arriving.

“Well, this certainly won't do,” Danny whispered to himself as his curiosity began to raged out of control like a wildfire tearing up the landscape.

And it was with these words, he scooted around in his booth to get closer, and closer he did come. So close in fact that he felt as if he were a small bird who was perched on one of their shoulders.

“So, are you going to answer my question or what Sam?” The taller of the two men ask before he lifted the top of his hamburger bun and gave the meat inside a good dousing of ketchup.

“And which one would that be?” Fred returned a question. “You asked about a million of them.”

“Oh, just the one about life. You know, the meaning of it.”

“Awe, that one. Well there's no answer to that question and I thought you knew that already. Besides, even if there was. Who in the world would know anyways.”

Indeed? Danny asked himself right before he applied suction to the straw that, over time, slowly drew up a generous amount of ice cream from the bottom of the plastic cup.

But more importantly, how does one go about finding out the answer to this mysterious question? Danny continued to muse. The thought was tantalizing to him.

Well there was one thing he knew for sure. His usual scientific method of detection would be of no use to him on this quest, after all, a question like thiscan't be measured or tested with chemical compounds can it. No, he would have to go about this another way. But what way would that be?

This is the thought that preoccupied his mind as he left the shop and went to the town's library. A library that was situated only five short blocks away.

Upon entering the stately built building, he walked up to the counter where seventy year old Miss Heart was stationed. She was busy placing small piles of books on a gray push cart. Seeing this, with his big brown eyes, and realizing she was obviously lost in her work, he patiently waited for her to take notice of him. And as he did, he made sure to stay real quiet so that he wouldn't disturb her. This however, as he found out, was more of a disturbance to her then if he had disturbed her in the first place. For when she did notice him, which was a mere few moments later, she was disturbed alright. But more like scared and startled actually he surmised after hearing her scream,“Oh! My!”

“And where in the world did you come from?” She asked, notably jolted.

“From the malt shop. Why?” Danny returned.

Miss Heart shook her head from left to right.

“No! No! That's not what I meant child. What I meant was...oh lets just forget about it okay,” she replied. “So how are we doing today?”

“I'm doing good,” he responded, right before he used an index finger to push his round thick glasses, which was slipping down the narrow bridge of his nose, back up.

“Well, that's good. Good is usually good,” she countered as she strolled along the white counter towards him, only stopping when she was standing right before him.

“Yeah, I guess so,” he said back.

“You guess so, hum,” she repeated. Well, in any case, onwards and upwards I say. So, did you bring any friends along with you this time?”

“No, not this time,” he replied. “But maybe next time I will.”

“Next time,” she said slowly. “Now Danny, my dear one, there always seems to be a next time right after the next time and so forth and so forth. Now why is that?”

Danny paused.

“Because,” he replied.

“Because why. Might I ask?”

“Because Miss Heart, I don't have any friends to speak of. But that doesn't matter. I'm on an important quest.”

“Oh,” she countered while sorrowfully gazing at him. “Well you always do seem to be on one of those things, sweetie,” she added. “But enough of my meddling. So what incredible quest is it this time? Are you using that exceptional mind of yours to figure out how or why the human brain works the way it does. Or why Newton's laws could be mathematically flawed?”

“No,” Danny responded softly. “This is far more important then any of that, at least for now it is.”

“Awe really. And what is more important then these noteworthy endeavors, hum?”

“The meaning of life. I'm searching for the meaning of life,” he replied. His comment caused Miss Heart to smile.

“Well aren’t we all child,” she said in a firm voice, then moved around the counter and placed a thin hand on his shoulder.

“And you know something else,” she continued to speak on. “Since this is the case. And because you're now like the rest of us. I feel somewhat obligated to steer you in the right direction. So if you'll take a seat at the big white table in front of you,” she pointed to the center of the room, “then I'll gather up some reading material that will do exactly that. Now how does that sound?”

“That sounds great, thank you,” Danny responded as he quickly moved to the table as instructed and sat down in one of the small blue chairs located there.

It was here that he watched Miss Heart slowly walk over to one of the shelves and begin to search diligently. After a few moments, she found what she was looking for, then walked over to the table where Danny sat and took a seat next to him.

“Well Danny, I found these three books,” she said. “They all talk about the subject. But before I let you read them. I have a question.”

Danny raised an eyebrow. What she said rapidly peaked his curiosity.

“Oh, and that is?” he replied meekly, all the while trying to figure out what her query might be.

She placed the books on the table, then leaned in close to him.

“This answer you're searching for. Are you sure it can be found in a book? I mean, that's why you came here in the first place right.”

Danny thought for a moment, the question caught him off guard.

“Yes and no,” he said. “Yes, that's why I came. And no, not really. But it's a place to start. After all, books are life. You think?”

“Yes, I suppose they are,” she responded. “And you my boy think well beyond your years,” she further stated as she pushed the three books in front of him.

With that now done, she smiled once more, then gradually climbed to her feet.

“Oh, and by the way Danny,” Miss Heart remarked offhandedly. “I sure hope you find the meaning to this question. And if you do. Please come and tell me okay. I'd sure be interested to know.”

Danny looked up from the table, then replied, “I will,” just before he cracked the first book open.

******

It was a Saturday afternoon when Danny made his way to the town's only park, which could be found three blocks away from where he lived on Maple Avenue.

Upon reaching the park, he found a white picnic table and sat down. He then placed the three books on the table, the ones Miss Heart pulled from the shelves two weeks earlier, and began to think about them.

And what should I say about the writers of these books, he started his mental analysis.

Well, I should say, that each writer has a good point, but that each point they make falls short of the mark. This is obviously because their concepts don't apply to everyone, which is a must, or so he believed. And it is upon this rock that their sublime ideas crash and sink to the murky depths below.

For example: in Shelley Dawn's book, What's the Meaning of Life About, the first of the three books he scanned through. She concluded that it was a personalized emotion that must be subconsciously recognized as such before meaning can be attached to it. Thus, according to her, you have the meaning of life. Now, if that was the case, then how does a person who has gone mad, for instance, come to “consciously recognize” anything about themselves, much less personalize their emotions, whatever that might mean. Well the answer to this question is: it can't happen. And that's quite simply because people who are like this are incapable of doing either, which is self-evident. It was at this point that he realized her whole theory had fallen apart and washed away like grains of sand in a roaring river.

And what about Bob Tanner’s book: The Meaning of Life as I know it, the second book he dug through. Bob Tanner thinks it's a series of events that we somehow perceive then attach meaning to them. But again, there was a basic fallacy in his grand concept. And that fallacy was: what about those who might perceive these events but are unable to attach meaning to them. Is there no meaning of life for those who can't.

Then lastly, there's Jan Hornet’s book: The Meaning of Life. She happens to think that it resides in the hands of others. That somehow, others are responsible for bring meaning into your life. Boy-o-boy did this rational of hers ever bare the mark of misconception, which was: what about those who live a secluded life, far away from the touch of humanity. Is there no meaning of live for such a soul as this?

The evidence, that all three of them presented to him, was very clear. Each writer was getting close to the full understanding of the concept, but that's all, just close. But why was this so? Danny contemplated. This led him to another thought.

Maybe they were all seeing a single part of the whole. This instantly linked him to another thought.

So, if they have a piece, then others must have one as well. And if that be the case, then all he would have to do to solve this elusive puzzle is to gather enough of these tiny little pieces together until a recognizable picture forms.

Wow, could it really be that easy he said to himself. This gave him an idea.

Danny immediately reached into the left pocket of his windbreaker and took out a note pad and pen. He then opened the pad up to the first page and wrote this heading: the meaning of life. Then under this, he wrote: a poll taken, 10/20/1970.

“That should do it,” he muttered as he picked up the books from the table, then walked a short distance to one of the intersections. It was here, within minutes, that his first piece of the puzzle arrived. Her name was Daisy Patterson. She was a white headed beauty born in 1890.

“Hey Daisy. How's it going?” Danny asked her as she approached. She was sort of shuffling along at the speed of your average garden variety snail.

“Oh, not well my boy. Not well at all,” she said. “You see, my back is hurten me somethen awful. In fact that’s why I’m here today. I thought I’d go across the street to Dale’s Drugstore and get some pills to put an end to this agony. So, what are you doing here? If you don't mind me asking.”

“No, not at all,” he said. “I'm taken a poll, which reminds me. Can I ask you a question?”

“A question? I guess so,” she said. “So what exactly do you want to know?”

Danny flipped his pad open.

“Miss Daisy. I was just wondering. Do you know what the meaning of life is?”

Daisy contemplated a second, then responded, “I’d say, getten my pills. Yip, that certainly is the meaning of life.”

“Getting your pills?” Danny countered, not quite expecting an answer like that.

“Yip. Getten my pills.”

“Alright then. Getting your pills,” Danny repeated once more as he quickly scribbled the answer next to her name.

“Well, thank you Daisy,” he add, just before looking up from his pad.

“You, are very welcome,” she replied. “So, was that all you wanted to know?” She further inquired.

“Yes. That was it.

“Are you sure,”

“Yeah, I'm sure.”

“Okay. Very good then. You've always been such a fine boy and I don't mind helping when I can. Speaking of. I could use a little assistance myself. I don't suppose you being a young healthy lad, as you seem to be, would care to help this old lady across the street? I've been a little wobbly on my feet as of late.”

“No. I don't mind,” Danny replied, then slip the hand, that held the pad, under her thin frail arm and began to walk with her.

Once they had reached the other side of the street, he let her arm go, then watched as she slowly enter the store that stood right before him. That’s when he saw Mister Peels come out of the drugstore with a broom in his hand.

“Hey Dan,” Mister Peels called out after seeing him. "How in the heck are you kid?” he asked.

“Oh, I'm fine,” Danny said as he strolled up to Peels.

“Just fine? On a gorgeous day like this,” Peels remarked back.

“Yeah, that's about it.”

“Well, if you say so. I mean, sometimes that's just about as good as it gets. So, what are you up to today?” Peels asked with a smile, which gave the world, in general, a rare glimpse of his coffee stained teeth.

“Oh, not much,” Danny replied. “I’m just taking a poll. Do you want to put in?”

“A poll. Well I don't see why not. But I got to warn you. I'm probably no good at this. You see, they've never been much use as far as I can tell. So, I've never taken the time to actually do one before. But in your case, I'll make an exception. So how does this poll thing work anyways?”

“Well, it's simple really, Mister Peels. All I do is ask you a question. And whatever answer you give me, I jot it down. And that's it.”

“Hum, that doesn't sound to hard,” Peels replied. “In fact kid, that sounds downright easy. Okay, I think I'm ready for this. Go ahead and do your best, or your worst as it may be.”

“Alright,” Danny returned as he opened up his pad again. “Now here's my question. What do you think the meaning of life is?”

“The meaning of life is it, huh” Peels muttered out loud to no one in particular as he worked the question around in his head.

“Well, I can't say that I've ever given this subject any real thought. But even so, I believe I just might have an answer for you.”

“Oh. And that answer is what?” Danny quickly interrupted before Peels could say, then readied his pen for action.

“Well Dan, it's this: a big can of worms. And a really nice fishing pole.”

“Worms and a fishing pole? Are you sure these things are the meaning of life?” Danny asked as he wrote the answer down in the pad.

“Yeah, I think they are. A big can of worms and a very nice fishing pole just seems to fit the bill rather nicely if I say so myself. Correction. Lets make that a monstrous size can of those wiggly critters...I do like to fish,” he added. “Anyways, I sure hope that helped you.”

Danny looked perplexed.

“No, it didn't,” he countered, realizing that this puzzle was going to be harder to put together than he had previously thought.

“I see,” Mister Peels replied. “Well, now that I think about it. There is someone else who might be able to help you better then I did.”

“Oh really. And who's that?” Danny asked with a wide smile that suddenly spread across his face as if the weight of the world had just been lifted off his tired shoulders.

“You don’t know, huh?” Mister Peels asked.

Danny thought long and hard, his face showing the effects of it.

“No. I can't say I do. So who is it?”

“Your old man, that's who. Use the old noodle, that's what it's for. Have you asked him about it yet. You know, he's a very clever fellow that dad of yours.”

With that said, Danny's smile, once bright and full of promise, rapidly melted away like an ice cream bar resting on a hot metal bench.

“I can’t. He doesn’t like me very much,” Danny replied, feeling the weight of the world return again, but this time heaver then before.

“He doesn't?” Peels said with concern. “Now I don't think that’s the truth. In fact, I know it isn't. Its just that sometimes, in life, people can get hurt, quite badly too. And when they do, they often forget how to love, or even how to give it back when they finally do remember how to, which has me wondering. Did your old man ever tell you what happened to him, kid?”

“No sir. He doesn't talk to me much,” Danny replied.

“Oh, he doesn't. Well, I think I know why. You see Dan, he's been keeping a secret from you. And the reason he has, I think, is because he's still packing around some guilt, or shame, or maybe a little bit of both for some of the things he had to do. Well, in any case, not that I like to meddle in other peoples lives or anything, the time has come for you to know what that little secret is even if he hates me for telling you.”

Peels paused to collect himself, then continued on.

“Well you see, Dan, to put it bluntly. When we were youngsters...I'm speaking about your dad and I of course...we did something that we probably shouldn't have done for an assortment of really bad reasons. We went out and signed up for the army.”

“Now at the time, when we did it, it just seemed like the coolest thing to do. You know, get a chance to travel around and see the world for free, mind you, which is what every adventurous soul yearns for. But you see, it wasn't long after we did, that we discovered this dream we had envisioned wasn't going to work out the way we had planned it to. I suppose, most dreams are like that, but I'm only guessing here.”

“Anyways, instead of seeing the beauty of the world, we witnessed the cruelty of it. A cruelty that played out on the bloody battlefields of Vietnam, which by the way, is still going on as I speak.”

“Now the way I see it, we were some of the lucky ones. We were fortunate enough to actually come home in one part. Well, as it appears, I did anyhow. But I guess your dad's mind is still floating around in those rice paddies back there. And you see, this is a problem that he'll have to work through, perhaps most of his life. And so, keeping this in mind, here is my advice to you.”

“Try not to judge your dad so harshly, son. But instead, look for ways to love him. And maybe, over time, the love you show, will allow him to break away from this psychological, self-imposed prison he has placed himself into.”

“He does love you Danny, I know it. You can trust me on that. I can't count the number of times when we were laying in a foxhole, tired, cold, and scared, that he's told me just how much he does. Not to mention, the unbelievable amount of times he's confessed to me that if it weren't for you and your momma, he wouldn't have made it out of there alive at all.”

“So, now that you know at least part of the story. I think it might be best for you to get yourself home and have him tell you the rest of it. You know, sorta fill in the blanks.”

“And by the way Danny, while you’re at it. Why don't you take a chance and reach over and throw your arms around him. You just never know what walls might come tumbling down when you do.”

******

After supper, Danny sat in his room, at his desk, looking over the poll notes he had taken earlier. And as he studied them, he began to think about what Peels had said.

He had tried before supper to talk with his dad about this exact subject, but he couldn't summons up enough courage to do so. The feeling of not being able to do this was a lot like discovering a beautiful island that is covered with delicious chocolate bars that you so desperately want to get to, but you just can't. That's because, the only way to get there is to swim through a deep dark ocean that is filled with a million vicious sharks. And the real kicker is. You don't even know how to swim to make the attempt.

However it was time to try once more. For if he waited much longer, the day would be lost, and the moment to resolve this issue would be lost with it.

With this in mind, he apprehensively glanced over at his alarm clock which sat next to his bed...it showed eight P.M...and sighed. He then closed his note pad and pushed to his feet, just before walking over to the bedroom door where he stood, rolling around thoughts. He did this for a few seconds, then somehow forced himself to turn the handle and swing the door open. It was at that moment, he took a deep breath, then ambled to the edge of the stairs where he caught a glimpse of his dad sitting in his recliner, with a beer in hand. He was watching news on the television set.

Danny had seen this sight many times before, and normally when he did, it put an end to his approach. But not this time he told himself as he slowly descended the stairs.

Upon reaching the bottom, he quietly moved to his dads right, then stood there watching television with him.

After a few moments, he tried to bring the words again, any words, but none would come. This is when he decided to walk away. But just as he turned to go, his dad gently took his hand, then said, “Danny, hold on a minute. We need to talk.” He said this in a deep strong masculine voice.

“We do?” Danny replied, wondering if he had done something terribly wrong.

“Yes, we do son,” his dad countered. “We’ve needed to for along time now. But I guess I've been a lot like you. I too could never really find the words. That was until Peels called me today and told me what he had told you at the drugstore.”

“Mister Peels called you,” Danny stated in astonishment, feeling betrayed, then felt a teardrop fall from the corner of his eye, which immediately caught his attention. It had been a long time since that sort of thing hand happened. This was all thanks to his dad's daily silent treatment which had dried them all up, or so he had thought. And at the time, when this had happened, in a weird sort of way, he was glad his tears were all gone. But now, in that same weird way, he was glad they had returned again. For with there return, it meant that he could feel again; and if he could feel again, this meant, he could love again; and if he could love again. Then he could heal again.

“Yeah Danny, he did. And at first I was angry at him for breaking an oath that he promised me he would always keep. But after awhile, I realized he was just trying to keep another oath that he had promised me before that one, which was, to bring me back to you and your Mother in one piece. Anyways, it wasn't his fault that I didn't tell you. I should have.”

“And why Dad? Why didn't you tell me?”

His dad paused, fighting back the wetness that was now invading his eyes, then spoke on.

“I guess Dan, it's because I didn't want to lose your love and respect. You see, if I told you where I had been, then knowing you as I do, you would have naturally started to ask questions. And eventually, these questions would have lead to some horrible, tragic answers that I feared, and still do, would taint you and turn you against me. And it was because of this fear that I remained silent. But now I know I was wrong, and I'm sorry for that. I do love you Danny. And no matter what people say, or what you might learn about what I didor didn't do over there. I want you to know that this will never change.”

With that said, Danny threw himself into his dad's strong capable arms where they stayed embracing for a long time, letting the pain drain away like a dark stationary storm that was now pulling out. In fact, not one word passed between them until they had parted and Danny was standing at the bottom of the stairs. And it was here, his dad lightly called out to him.

“Oh, and son.”

Upon hearing this, Danny stopped and turned to face his dad who was now looking around the side of his recliner.

“Yeah dad?”

“Peels said you had a question for me. Well, the answer to that question is: you, your mom, and this house. I hope that helps.”

Danny paused, smiled, then replied, “Yes, I think it did.” And with that, he turned and went up to bed.

******

The next day, Miss Heart was standing at the counter as she always seemed to be, when Danny walked up and deposited the three books into the return box. He was grinning from ear to ear when he did.

“Why, hello there,” Miss Heart greeted him as she reached into the box and removed the three books he had just returned. “And would you look at that. You have something on your face. Now what are those things called. Oh yeah, I believe they are called, smiles. And if you don't mind me asking. Why has this thing, which has been gone for so long, suddenly returned?”

“Well maybe, Miss Heart, it's because I talked with my dad last night,” Danny replied. His eyes were just beaming.

“Oh, you did. Well, its about time. And did you two get it all straightened out?” She asked.

“Yeah, more or less. And guess what else. I made a discovery too.”

“Awe. And what was that?”

“The meaning of life. I found out what it is.”

“Oh really. And what is it, do tell?” she inquired while leaning in close to him.

“It's everything, Miss Heart. Its all things, to all people, at all times. That's even if we don't know it. Now I think I'll be going.”

“Going? Miss Heart stated as she stood up straight.

“Going where?”

“With my dad, of course. He's taking me to a baseball game. Can you believe it.”


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