TUMBY BAY - I was lucky in high school because I had a succession of very good English teachers.
Their presence made the experience bearable as I grappled with all the other banal subjects on offer.
I can’t remember the name of my first year English teacher. He was a younger man and I later ran into him outside Steamies in Port Moresby.
In second year there was the indomitable Mr Wood, who advised me to be cautious about my plans to one day become a kiap.
I ran into him in later life and had the pleasure of telling him that’s exactly what I had done.
In third year there was Mr Crouch, a very tall man with a good sense of humour.
He once chastised me for admitting I didn’t have the foggiest idea what a passage from one of Shakespeare’s plays meant.
He was very suspicious of my creative essays and for a while thought I was a plagiarist.
After he worked out that wasn’t the case he awarded me the school prize for literature in my final year.
During that matriculation year, my English teacher was a Mr Phillips. I remember him particularly well because he introduced us to the age-old literary quandary about the meaning of life.
Why are we here? Please discuss in 500 words or less.
Thanks to Mr Phillips, I’ve been discussing and wondering about that question ever since.
I can’t estimate how many millions of words I’ve dedicated to it, one way or another, over the years.
Now that I’m in my early dotage it still bothers me. I would really like to know what it’s all about before I slip into that final fug of senility.
I’ve explored the hundreds of -isms that claim to have an answer but none of them is satisfying.
Even unsatisfying are the non-secular explanations.
Spending three score and ten years on the planet simply to end up with some hoary old gentleman in a long white beard playing a harp on a fluffy white cloud for eternity doesn’t inspire me at all.
Scientists aren’t much help either. Being just another organism whose sole function is reproduction kind of misses the point. In their view being a sago grub has the same value as being a human being.
So too is the humanist view that we are here to care for each other and all of nature’s creatures, including sago grubs.
That’s well and good but it doesn’t answer the question about why?
As for the poets, their take on the matter ranges from sugar-coated silliness to the downright scary and everything in between.
For poets the question is their bread and butter and they’ve got no intention of letting go of such a golden goose by providing a definitive answer.
In all truth I’d be happy to accept that the answer to the question doesn’t exist because we are simply a product of happenstance and our presence on the planet is irrelevant and meaningless.
However, when I walk the dogs up in the hills or along the beach I cannot help but think our little planet is a wondrous place that really should have meaning.
And then I think about all the hideous damage humanity has done to it and why I fled to this little community on the west coast of South Australia to get away from it all.
If there is any meaning to the existence of human life it certainly hasn’t got anything to do with our greedy and destructive nature.
And it certainly hasn’t got anything to do with shopping malls stuffed full of junk as many people think and others would have us believe.
What I should have done way back in high school was to ask Mr Phillips what he thought was the meaning of life.
Unfortunately I was a pimply teenager and the idea didn’t occur to me at the time.
In The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams, the answer to ‘the ultimate question of life, the universe, and everything’ is calculated over a period of 7.5 million years by an enormous supercomputer named Deep Thought.
Deep Thought pointed out that the answer seems meaningless because the beings who instructed it never knew what the question was.
I guess that’s as good as we’re going to get.