I don’t know much about meaning, but I’ve learned a few things without which life wouldn’t make sense.

I spoke very little in my early years, and my mother says that my silence scared her. She never knew what was going through my mind. She was afraid I was hiding something.

Perhaps because of her fears, I began to feel guilty about my silence. I found a way to express myself in the writings of Amos Oz, and it suited my transition from silence to speech. When the pressure of my maladjustment was too great, I began to voice my thoughts. I spoke slowly, very carefully, the words seeming miraculous to me through their essence and effects. My thoughts were full of “whys“. Why don’t I call the chair “a table” and the table “a vase”? Why is Mother my mother? Why are my eyelids orange on the inside when the sun shines on my closed eyes? Who is God? Why am I happy when I’m alone and there’s peace around me?

My large family, a constant swarm, did not have time to answer my countless questions. So I learned to separate the mundane words, that helped me integrate, from my strange thoughts and unanswered questions. I thought later that maybe that was why I grew up with the idea that I’m not like everyone else, that I don’t understand enough, that I need to find out what the world is like and how people live. This thought has followed me ever since childhood, as well as the feeling that what is big and important escaped me and only what is small remained. These fragments cannot be gathered into a guide for life.

The feeling that I am not like others faded when I started to read and when I found some good friends. I found my concerns in the minds of others. I found my imagined worlds and some sought-after answers.

Reading has always shown me new answers, worlds and questions. By reading, my knowledge increases like a snowball. But still I have questions. Who am I? Why am I the way I am,  and not otherwise? What is the meaning of life? Where am I headed? How do I know I found the right answers?

I do not remember the exact moment when—perhaps because of books, religious education, or growing pride—I came to the conclusion that my goal is to change the world for the better. Although this was already ingrained in me, when the time came to make big life choices I was again overwhelmed by the feeling that I did not understand how the world works and that I was naïve. The decisions I made then were a torment, because I considered myself constantly in the fight between right and wrong, between the straight and narrow and the abyss. I chose, exhausted under the pressure of the variables needing to be taken into account, to take the dreams of other people upon myself, and to fulfil imaginary expectations. I took models of “how to live” and tried to fit into them. But the vital certainty that I was where I needed to be and doing the right thing bypassed me most of the time.

I am fascinated by people who know “how”, but especially by people who know “why”. I envy them, because their world seems happier than mine. I carried with me only a few certainties, some of which have had to be deconstructed along the way. My soul still shrinks in fear when I am uncertain, but I’m learning to live with questions. I’m looking for answers, but without the urge to find them on my terms, when and how I want to.

I owe this to wonderful people, both older and younger than me, who have shared their vulnerabilities with me. They taught me that the journey is also beautiful, and that many answers come from mistakes. They showed me that having faith involves mystery and vulnerability; only fanatics know everything. The prospect of my own death or the death of loved ones has freed me from the pressure to conform to social standards and the illusion that I have more time to do what I really want.

The passage of time has brought me more patience with myself and with the things I still can’t or don’t know how to change.

I have not reached the final stage of wisdom about the meaning of life, nor do I think I ever will. I am as puzzled by the complexity of life as I was when I was five years old and puzzled by the etymology of words. All I know is that for me, life is meaningless without the courage to love people the way they need to be loved, not the way I want to love them. Life is meaningless without kindness, faith, sincerity towards one’s own person, the courage to start over and not letting fears paralyze you. As much as I would like life to make sense without problems and suffering, I accept that they too have their purpose, and I let them transform me. I know life is colourless without curiosity, without wonder when faced with miracles, and without creativity. Now, I can no longer imagine life without the search for answers, and the freedom of choice that faith offers.

Andreea Irimia teaches computer science and technological education.