The short story “The Deep” by Anthony Doerr reflects on the idea of a meaningful life through the story of Tom, a young man whose life always seems to be just at the edge of ending because of his heart condition. For Tom, the meaning of life appears in the moments in which he lives most intensely and in the vibrant life he catches glimpses of from time to time.
Tom must always be careful of what he does and how much he exerts himself, and perhaps that is why his afternoons with Ruby are so meaningful to him. For a while, he can be a normal person as the two of them explore their small town and especially the underwater realm of the pond. Tom can simply live without worrying or thinking about himself or his condition for a while. He can focus on discovery and on Ruby.
Tom is also enchanted by the pictures he sees in Ruby's book about the ocean. The vibrant life he glimpses there enters his imagination, and he dreams of it, encouraged by the thought that somewhere in the world, there is more to life than his mother's boardinghouse and the salt mines of his town.
When the Great Depression strikes, Tom's mother leaves, and the bank takes the boardinghouse. Tom is left on his own, but he still doesn't give up on life. He travels to the city where he finds Mr. Weems, one of his mother's previous boarders with whom Tom has developed a friendship. Tom finds a job in the maternity ward of a hospital, and again, he is struck by the life that appears there over and over with each new baby even in the midst of a world gone crazy. Life triumphs.
As Tom tells Ruby at the end of the story, “But now I know life is the one thing in the world that never runs out.” Tom is still aware that his days are probably limited. “I might run out of mine, and you might run out of yours,” he continues, “but this world will never run out of life. And we're all very lucky to be part of something like that.” Tom realizes that, despite all the hardship, he has been “absolutely lucky” just because he has received the gift of life.