Injecting Meaning into Life
“In the 1950s kids lost their innocence.
“They were liberated from their parents by well-paying jobs, cars, and lyrics in music that gave rise to a new term ---the generation gap.
“In the 1960s, kids lost their authority [the means of direction].
“It was a decade of protest---church, state, and parents were all called into question and found wanting. Their authority was rejected, yet nothing ever replaced it.
“In the 1970s, kids lost their love. It was the decade of me-ism dominated by hyphenated words beginning with self.
“Self-image, Self-esteem, Self-assertion....It made for a lonely world. Kids learned everything there was to know about sex and forgot everything there was to know about love, and no one had the nerve to tell them there was a difference.
“In the 1980s, kids lost their hope. . . . In the 1990s, kids lost their power to reason. . . . In the new millennium, kids woke up and found out that in the midst of all this change, they had lost their imagination," Ravi Zacharias--Recapture the Wonder.
Ray Bradbury wrote Fahrenheit 451** in 1950—back when there was still innocence, hope, and imagination. The book is about a society that can no longer find itself. The people have no books, no imagination, and no sense of purpose and meaning.
Bradbury depicts these losses in one of the most chilling moments in literature. A man comes home from work to find his wife passed out--overdosed on sleeping pills. He calls for help assuming the 1950s practice that a doctor will actually come to the house to set her right.
Instead, help comes in the form of two cigarette smoking technicians with a snakelike vacuum cleaner of sorts. They sweep out the woman's system. She'll be fine in the morning. It's no big deal, they say; it's common. So common, in fact, that they get nine or ten calls a night. Every night.
They pack up their snake device and move on to work on the next person who "just jumped off the cap of a pillbox" (15-16).
The technicians don't perceive that they're saving lives. Their act is mundane. It lacks significance, perhaps, because life itself has lost significance.
Bradbury saw that without a vision the people perish. He saw that this lack of vision would continue in a downward spiral until the futuristic time we call today. He knew that, even if bodies come back from the fringe of death, souls who can't find meaning will flounder.
The idea that a doctor might come to your house evaporated shortly after F451 was published. And health care professionals smoking as they work? Unheard of then and now.
But the idea that modern medicine could revive the overdosed shows that Bradbury had remarkable foresight in 1950. He saw then what we now, along with Ravi Zacharias, recognize--our loss of innocence has produced more losses. These losses have left a void.
To fill the void, we look for....something. Many try to fill the void with heroin and opioids, whose use has become an epidemic. And with the epidemic in usage comes increasing numbers of overdose deaths.
As in Bradbury’s fictional setting, we now have a way to revive the overdosed. Today, there is Naloxone.
And as in Bradbury’s book, the delivery method for Naloxone is not a physician. Nor is it two jaded, cigarette toting technicians. It's a wide variety of people. Just about anyone can rescue someone endangered by an overdose.
As we might expect, first responders—EMTs, police, and firefighters—are stocking up on the medication. But so are a growing number of schools. In Rhode Island, the law requires schools to keep the drug on hand—middle school through high school. Middle school starts with fifth graders. Ten-year-olds.
In my own county, drug overdoses have more than doubled in the last two years. A neighboring county saw the equivalent of one fatal overdose every other day during the month of January.
That county's coroner said that, if not for Narcan (a brand name for Naloxone), he would need an even bigger morgue. But the problem does not end at the edges of two counties. It’s pervasive.
Drug overdoses are at an all-time high—no pun intended. A graph from the National Institutes of Health shows exactly how much things have changed just since 2002.
Some argue that the presence of Naloxone will only embolden drug abusers. But an emergency room physician in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, says that many addicts who have withdrawn from the drug and then relapse will overdose because their bodies have reduced tolerance.
Those most at risk may be those working the hardest to escape addiction. To regain what they’ve lost.
Everything we've lost is something everyone is looking for. When the world had imagination, reason, hope, love, authority, and innocence, the world had meaning. It was by no means a perfect world. But we had purpose. Our lives meant something.
Our innocence let us enjoy life. Our authority gave us direction. Love gave us purpose. Hope gave us optimism. Reason helped us understand ourselves. And imagination gave us wonder.
Inside each of us is an emptiness that only meaning can fulfill. When we lose everything from our innocence to a sense of wonder, we try to shove pleasure into that empty space. But pleasure is a small thing that only rattles around in the emptiness even more.
"Joy," Lewis said, "is the serious business of heaven."
Christ alone can fulfill us.
To an empty, hurting world, He is the only offer of hope.