The Meaning Of Life

When was the last time you thought about your life? Not how old you are, how in debt you are, or whether celibacy has gone from being a temporary aberration to a terminal condition but what your life – anyone's life, come to that – is all about. Now, you'd think this was the sort of question astrologers had a neat little answer to, and maybe some do, but not this one, not your very own Woman and Home stargazer. But I did have cause to think about it the other night. In fact it kept me awake until the wee small hours.

And this is what prompted it.

I had nodded off in the middle of Eastenders – as much a result of jet-lag as the effort of trying to work out why the once eminently sane Sonia had turned into a homeless alcoholic when the last time I'd tuned in, she was living in connubial bliss with her black lesbian lover. When I awoke it was not to the sight of Albert Square but a monster-size David Gest – well, at least what the ex Mr Minelli might look like if he stumbled into a Hall of Mirrors - uttering the words: “We're not coming here like everyone else just to buy a couple of properties – we're going to buy a town.” (The here turning out to be Bulgaria.) Now this is something, I thought. I can get my mind around a Russian billionaire buying Chelsea Football Club, an Egyptian arms-dealer owning Harrods, even the purchase of London Bridge and its removal brick by brick to the Utah desert, but an Englishman, a personal trainer come lately, buying up a large tract of land in Bulgaria in order to build a town, and in his vaingloriousness opting not to call it Bosko Vlas or something remotely Bulgarian, but Alexander, after himself. This was surely beyond chutzpah, and just south of hubris.

The programme – Britain's Biggest Spenders – was mesmerizing. Never had so much money been spent by so few people with such a dearth of good taste. The personal trainer cum town buyer wore his wealth on his sleeve in the form of a diamond encrusted Rolex, so diamond encrusted in fact that he could not actually see the time. For extra embellishment, on the watch face, the letters NOI were picked out in little diamonds. N O I? I played around with this for a while – 'Nnoyingly Over-muscled Impressario. Oh! I get it – No. 1. (How stupid am I?) But as the programme churned on displaying evermore mind-numbing examples of out of control consumerism, I found myself thinking: What is the purpose of these lives? When they disembark from this mortal coil and are judged by the heavenly powers that be, what account will give of themselves? “So, No.1, what have you done to earn your place in Paradise?” “ I selflessly supported and sustained Bulgari, Ferrari, Armani, ... made countless car salesman deliriously happy and brought pleasure to endless numbers of women – sometimes several at a time. Oh, and I bought a town.”

We who are in the business of saving souls – and I include all metaphysical counsellors here – tend to believe that there is a direct link between actions on earth and life in the hereafter, what goes around, comes around, sort of thing. And while there's nothing wrong in earning stacks of money and enjoying it in this life, a life defined by what you have bought seems somehow lacking in a sense of real purpose. Or am I wrong, and has the little green monster got me by the short and curlies? Then I had a bit of an epiphany.

If we go along with the spiritual belief that we have many lives and in between those lives we visit a kind of ethereal boot camp to get us in shape for the next, the more spiritually evolved we become the greater freedom of choice we have as to what and who we will be next. And maybe, after life after life of struggle, discipline, poverty and suffering the ills of mankind, you deserve a life of pure pleasure and indulgence.

Poor old Mozart must have done some very bad deeds to compose the most divine music ever, only to die in pain and poverty at the tender age of thirty-two. And how about Copernicus – decades of work proving the Earth trundled around the sun, only to be sent to scientific purgatory by his peers and ending his life in despair and oblivion. No wonder Van Gogh took the express route to the other world , driven mad by his art and the complete indifference of the artistic cognoscenti. Having earned their brownie points in heaven by selflessly devoting themselves to humanity's evolution, why on earth would these eminences choose to come back and suffer for their art again. No, I'm sure they'd see the serious benefits of a life lived in the pleasure domes of Beverley Hills and Bond Street.

So, this winding stream of consciousness, inevitably led me to the understanding that Britain's biggest spenders were to be admired and respected. Although they cannot produce their past life pedigrees, we must take it on trust that mankind's history is littered with their triumphs; they have earned their Black Amex cards. Now, the only question left is where I am on my evolutionary journey. Clearly, I have failed to crack the cosmic code in this life; I have produced no great work of art, failed to devote money and time to worthy causes, nor added in any way to humanity's progress, education or enlightenment. On the other hand, I have accrued a vast stock of jeans, suits, dresses, hats, handbags and , Oh, yes shoes. In fact the last time I opened the spare room wardrobe a pair of wedges hurled themselves off the tower of shoe-boxes, hitting me sharply on the head – a sign, surely, that I'm on my way to becoming veritable BhodiSatva. Perhaps I'm not as far away as I think from perfection. Why, if I sell, the house, send the children out to work and refinance the car, I could just buy a small village in Bulgaria.

Written in 2006





Penny Thornton

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