I’ve got this excellent idea for a decades-spanning prank to pull on future children. The idea is that you raise your children while giving little clues along the way that they were adopted. Eventually you admit to them that they are adopted while they are still quite young, and you raise them in a loving fashion “just like their birth parents would have”. As the years go past, they are happy but they always have this unfulfilled curiosity about their real parents.
Eventually they leave home and in their adult life they begin to research their birth parents. They get in contact with the adoption agency and the agency tells them that their birth parents are willing to meet with them.
They set up the meeting and when they arrive, you’re there waiting for them, and you fall to your knees and cry out:
“I CAN’T KEEP THE TRUTH FROM YOU ANY LONGER… YOU’RE NOT ADOPTED!”
Willingly or unwillingly, we are in an indifferent universe where the majority of influences on our lives are not only out of our control but were entirely arbitrary based on the circumstances of our births and the lives of our parents. We still have ultimate freedom, the freedom of a card player: to fold, or to play the cards we’ve received. As Camus said, suicide is the central problem in philosophy. But a game of cards can be won or lost; a life can only be lived, and the terms of that life are yours to define. We recognise that meaning is a value we assign to words and hang on objects; we should feel no despair in realising the profound meaningless of reality, because it is precisely that meaninglessness which affords us the freedom to define ourselves. It is in interpreting that we exist. Humans are a creative race, and creating meaning is the first of our great projects to create ourselves and our place in the vast indifferent universe. Humans were telling stories before they were building cities, before they were sowing fields.
Meaning is not inherent, but you can spend your time however you want. It’s what you choose to do and what you choose not to do that defines you. We are always making these choices.