Meaning & Measure

We die. That may be the meaning of life. But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives.– Toni Morrison, 1993 Nobel Lecture

Looking at this epigraph from Toni Morrison reminded me of the end of The Big Machine when Ricky is writing to his unborn child. Ricky knows that he might not survive the birth. However, he seems to understand that death may be the price he has to pay to bring the unborn child into the world, and wants to share his story. The last part of the quote, “But we do language. That may be the measure of our lives”, is what initially made me think of Ricky writing to the child. In him writing down his story to pass down if he doesn’t survive, he is passing down a part of himself. His story would then become the “measure” of his life.

Ricky writes “In case I don’t survive, I want you to know this is my voice. Ricky Rice. Your father” (LaValle, 366). Even in death, his voice can remain through his language. You can see a lot of a person’s personality in the way they talk and the things they say. Written language can provide the child with a way to know his father in his own words, not just in stories from others. However, although dying for the child has a lot of meaning, I don’t believe that is the whole meaning of Ricky’s life. Overcoming so many challenges and surviving everything he did had a lot of meaning to his existence as well.

Along with that, I do believe that there isn’t just one single meaning to one’s existence. There was meaning in Ricky working at the bus station, recovering from his addiction, surviving Murder, giving birth, and much more. The measure of someone’s life covers a lot more ground than the meaning, and I believe the measure of Ricky’s experiences and legacy of his language is more important than finding his meaning.

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