Retirement Talk

WHAT to do with the rest of your life?


Episode 191 Meaning and Purpose


I stood in front of “Down House” in rural England . This is where Darwin wrote “The Origin of the Species” a book that rocked the world; scorned by so many and held in highest admiration by others. Not a person in sight. Not a sound to be heard. The sun was high in the sky and the air was still. It was noon time and even the birds seemed to be napping. A plaque on a stone pillar that stood beside the driveway read, “Here Charles Darwin thought and wrote for 40 years”   


This is Retirement Talk. I’m Del Lowery.


Like everyone else I had heard about, “The Origin of the Species”, throughout life. But I had never met anyone who had actually read the book. So, during the previous winter in Alaska I had pulled it off the shelf and read it through – cover to cover. I was amazed. It was so clear and logical. No wonder it had caused such furor. The case for evolution was not only presented, but it was made in a way that was clear, persuasive and understandable.  


No one answered my knock. Then I saw a discrete sign posted next to the door. The home would open again at 2 o’clock. I waited the 45 minutes. Not one person appeared; not one car passed by; not one dog came into the yard; nothing.  My mind wandered concerning how such a maelstrom of thought could have emanated from this serene, silent spot in the British country side. At 2 o’clock I knocked again and a caretaker opened the door. He seemed surprised. He looked both ways for my car. I had walked the few kilometers from the train station down this empty, narrow country road lined with tall, green hedge. There was no car. I asked if I could visit the museum. I had read in a book that it was part of the British Trust – just like the British Museum – only no one was there - just me.


He held the door wide; asked me to come in, and said “give a shout if you needed anything”. Then he bounded up the stairs to the second floor.  I was left alone – in Darwin ’s house. It was silent. I was stunned. There I was in Darwin ’s house all alone.

The house had every appearance of being lived in. I moved like a shadow – silently peering into this case and that – here were the birds he had brought back on the Beagle. Here was his chair and writing board where he sat and composed his thoughts each day. Here were his pens, his books, his spectacles, etc. Here were a few glass cases with some of his personal letters and books. It was so.... silent.


The previous winter I had also read Loren Eiseley’s book “ Darwin ’s Century”. I had read of this house and its gardens. Out the French doors lay the footpath that Darwin walked every day. I walked down it and thought of universal impact of Darwin ’s thinking and the lack of people who come here to pay homage. I returned to the house with no visitors. I lingered and then silently let myself out and left this house where thought had taken a giant leap.


What does this have to do with Retirement? Darwin ’s work influenced our concept of where life came from and what life is all about. We retired people have a bit more time to consider our life and what it means. Prior to Darwin there was a spiritual focus. Our creation and our ultimate destiny were defined in religious terms. Darwin discoveries and thoughts proposed different answers to those questions. His answers shook the world. 


Giving meaning to life is important for all of us. We need to feel that we have something for which life is worth living. If ancient religion doesn’t provide it then something else must. Some of us choose to refuse logic and scientific thought and stay with our historic religion. Others of us take a more liberal approach and attempt to meld the two – science and religion. We rationalize or re-interpret scripture,words or religious passages. We compromise. Others of us discard the religion all together and then search for something to replace it. To give life meaning seems to be the ultimate goal. I’m not sure it matters much which choice we make.


And then today this arrived in the mail:


“Individuals who have a strong sense of meaning and purpose generally have better health, recover quicker from illnesses, and typically live longer”.


This is a quote from one of the many health newsletters we receive. It is a publication from the Wellness Council of America. We need a meaning that is strong not just some weakly held belief. Darwin steps can be heard in the back of our minds no matter our public confessions. The genie is out of the bottle. Darwin ’s conclusions affect our sense of meaning and purpose in life. Its a fact we cannot ignore.


What to do? We will continue this topic in coming episodes.


This is Retirement Talk.


This is a revised edition of episode 20. I thought it worth revisiting. I hope you do too.





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