Searching for the Meaning of Life

As a child, I’d discovered toy race cars in cereal boxes, and plush toys in kid’s meals. I’ve found small puzzle booklets in Cracker Jack boxes, and received suckers at the bank’s drive-thru. These were fun discoveries – little surprises that brighten a child’s heart.
Imagine my surprise when I found the Meaning of Life.
Inside a box
Actually, I found a book about a boy who found the “Meaning of Life” inside of a box. I was on my usual hunt through the local bookstore, a weekly hangout where I go searching for great books to bring into my classroom. The audacious title, paired with the playful keys adorning the cover, were enough to draw me inside the pages.
But the story within is where the magic unfolds.
Jeremy Fink is a young boy entering his teen years, without his father, who passed a few years earlier from a heart attack. Yet as his thirteenth birthday approaches, a box is delivered to his home. Engraved on thee box are the words “The Meaning of Life: For Jeremy Fink to Open on His 13th Birthday.
The box is from his deceased father.
This story is a treasure. I often find myself suggesting this book to friends, especially fathers. When I roam the local bookstore, I make a point to recommend this book to parents and middle-grade students. All of my own students and colleagues know how dearly I cherish this book.
Wendy Mass crafts a perfect balance of humor, intrigue, and purpose in this delightful coming-of-age tale. She invites us to join Jeremy on his quest to discover why we are here, and what the keys are to finding our place in this world.
With each class that I lead, we savor Jeremy’s quest. I invite parents to send in their own little mementos; never-before-seen artifacts that connect their children to an understanding of what precious gifts each of them are to this world. Secretly, I place all of these treasures in a little wooden chest, to be opened after we finish reading the novel.
When the day arrives, each student receives a set of keys to open the box, much like the keys Jeremy searched for in the Wendy Mass novel. It is one of the most beautiful moments we share as a learning community.
Some of the items revealed from our classroom box include:
A hat from the hospital delivery room, signed by the delivery team
Hand-written notes from parents, detailing the story of how their child was born
Lyrics to a song, written by a father, to celebrate the birth of his son
Footprints from the delivery room, of a child that wasn’t supposed to make it
Photos of grandparents, holding my students when they were infants
There are tears of joy when children open up their gifts. While each item is special, the message behind the item is what is most memorable.
That each child is cherished.
That each child makes his parent’s life meaningful.
That each child is a unique, beautiful gift.
So this post is to honor Mrs. Mass as she celebrates her own birthday. Through her incomparable story, she has inspired countless readers to cherish the moments on their string of life, and treasure their own unique story.



5 thoughts on “Searching for the Meaning of Life

  1. What incredible experiences you provide for your students! This is a great example of how to build classroom community, as well as form lifelong memories for these students. You are a blessing to your students and their families!


  2. I’ve always loved this book, too (another Wendy Mass book, A Mango-Shaped Space, is beloved as well), and have used it for book groups. I’ve never tried your idea, though, on culminating it, and I love it! What a treasure box for those kids!

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