sig·ni·fy

ScreenShot001I’m sure there is some scientific explanation behind it, but have you ever noticed a word or phrase or idea fall into a repeat pattern where it seems to start appearing to you from every corner, high and low? This happens to me often with songs and poems and odd quotes. In the past 2-3 weeks it has been Shakespeares lil’ bit of Macbeth:

Out, out, brief candle!
Life’s but a walking shadow, a poor player
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury
Signifying nothing

Now I am not the most avid Shakespeare reader, and certainly I’m not about to delve into any meaningful analysis of why Macbeth delivers this soliloquy in this particular way. If I summarize it just a bit, and remove some of the flowery and inflaming language, I think he is saying life is short and meaningless. It perhaps feels like it should be significant, but alas it is an idiots story which signifies nothing.

sig·ni·fy
ˈsignəˌfī/
verb
Be an indication of

Middle English: from Old French signifier,
from Latin significare ‘indicate, portend,’
from signum ‘token.’

And, I suppose one level deeper may be useful:
to·ken
ˈtōkən/
noun
a thing serving as a visible or tangible representation of a fact, quality, feeling, etc

Now a representation of a thing is not the thing itself. If I ask you whether you have seen Jupiter, most of you will say yes but you have not – you have only seen representations of Jupiter in form of pictures. It seems obvious, but a picture of a thing is not the thing, but it is a fairly good representation unless it has been “photoshopped” with fictional details.

If I step back and look, I have to ask myself, does life (my life, your life, my cat’s life, the backyard weed’s life) serve as a representation of something? Is it a token of something other than itself? Macbeth says no. Many scientists say no.

Yet it is full of sound and fury. Full of the appearance of significance and import. It feels like it is more than a random clockwork – it hurts, and it orgasms. There is enough pleasure to push through the pain for most (yet not all). There is a sense of beauty (which is a thing void of laboratory proof) and goodness (also no “proof”) and truth (“what is truth?”). These can and often will overwhelm and carry us into bouts of soliloquy all our own.

Life is full of experiences which compel us to live as if it mattered, as if it signifies something more than itself. You can pour it into a test tube but you won’t adequately explain why – and may likely fail-over to a desperate explanation of “there is no why” just like Macbeth. Some in the past have even suggested we pretend – invent our own Noble Lie to give meaning to our experience and value to our hour upon the stage. That didn’t exactly work out so diversion was introduced in the next act. We shall see where that leads, but if my own heart is any judge of yours, it will be short-lived.

We are faced with saying to ourselves either “live as if it mattered” or “live because it matters”. Your life is either a token of nothing, or representation of something greater, fuller, realer.