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" What Is the Meaning of Life? "
~ paraphrased from Robert Fulghum's: "It Was on Fire When I Lay Down on It"

Mardi Gras mask

       "Are there any questions?" ~ an offer that comes at the end of college lectures and long meetings. If the usual silence follows the invitation, I often ask: "What is the meaning of life?" Most of the time, people laugh and nod and gather up their stuff, and the meeting is dismissed on that ridiculous note. Once, and only once, I asked that question and got a serious answer ~ One that is with me still.

       Alexander Papaderos, a doctor of philosophy, a teacher and politician, the man behind an institute on the island of Crete devoted to healing the wounds of war, is a living legend. Few men live up to their reputations when you get close. Alexander Papaderos is an exception. When I asked my question, the usual laughter followed and people stirred to go. But after looking at me for a long time, he said: "I will answer your question." Taking his wallet out of his hip pocket, he fished into a leather billfold and brought out a very small round mirror, about the size of a quarter. And what he said went like this:

       "When I was a small child during the war, we were very poor, and we lived in a remote village. One day on the road I found the broken pieces of a mirror. A German motorcycle had been wrecked in that place. I tried to find all the pieces and put them together, but it was not possible, so I kept only the largest piece - this one. And by scratching it on a stone, I made it round. I began to play with it as a toy and became fascinated by the fact that I could reflect light into dark places where the sun would never shine - in deep holes and crevices and dark closets. It became a game for me to get light into the most inaccessible places I could find.

       "I kept the little mirror, and as I went about my growing up, I would take it out in idle moments and continue the challenge of the game. As I became a man, I grew to understand that this was not just a child's game, but a metaphor for what I might do with my life. I came to understand that I am not the Light, nor am I the source of Light. But Light - truth, understanding, knowledge - is there, and it will only shine in many dark places if I reflect it.

       "I am a fragment of a mirror whose whole design and shape I do not know. Nevertheless, with what I have I can reflect light into the dark places of this world - into the dark places in the hearts of men - and change some things in some people. Perhaps, others may see and do likewise. This is what I am about.

This is the meaning of Life."

In the wallet of my mind I carry a small round mirror still.

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