I’m starting with the really big questions this week, which always seems to coincide with the end of a vacation in which I get a little breathing room to think big thoughts. This particular vacation was riddled with laughter and that, too, breaks up the log jams that clog my thinking. I read a beautiful blog the other day by Robyn Haynes, on her site Big Dreams For A Tiny Garden, entitled Raison D’Être. I highly recommend it. It got me thinking about the purpose of my own life. That is one of the biggest of all questions. Why do I exist? For that matter, why do Woodchucks exist? Or Banana Slugs? I believe there is a purpose for everything (to paraphrase Ecclesiastes 3:1 and The Mamas and The Papas). I believe I have led a purpose-driven life. Though I must admit, I could not articulately or completely say exactly what that purpose is. The truth is that I am a very goal-driven person. I think my goals revolve around a set of core values and beliefs. Those in turn are based on what I think the purpose of my life is. For example, one of my core values is equity. One of my core beliefs is that education is at the heart of equity. I believe every single person deserves a free, high quality education which will allow them to achieve all of their life goals regardless of their zip code, their bank account, their religion, their gender, their ethnicity, their language, their fill-in-the-blank… every single person. But is that my purpose? In my work, I live that core belief. Maybe, it is my purpose. I think about a “purpose” as one of those monolithic, granite monuments of life. I imagine this booming voice thundering from the heavens, “Your purpose, Catherine, is to do everything you can to provide an equitable education to every child!” I can’t really picture that voice saying, “Your purpose, Catherine, is to go grocery shopping.” How could my purpose be something mundane that everyone has to do? It must be red carpet, Oscar-worthy stuff, right? But then it occurred to me that I don’t really know what my purpose is, and I am not sure I can or will ever know my real purpose. Being an educator is what I think my purpose is. But I could have it completely wrong. Maybe being an educator is just a great thing that I love doing and that, hopefully, made a difference in students’ lives. Not only is it possible that this is not my purpose, or maybe not my only purpose, it is also possible that my purpose is something I think is inconsequential, but in the end has a massive and enduring impact. What if our purpose is more like a small cog in a wheel that drives a machine that changes the world? What if all the good and bad things that happen in our lives come together to lead us to the exact moment of our true purpose?
Hypothetically (actually this is complete fiction, but I have a point, so stay with me), let’s imagine that I am a business tycoon. In this fictional world, I have made it my life’s work to develop an eco-friendly construction company. I have a vision that I am passionate about. My purpose is saving the environment while furthering economic development. I am changing the world with each print of my tiny little carbon foot. I travel to Arizona where I am pitching my idea for an innovative, energy-efficient office building. While there, I take my clients to lunch at a farm-to-table restaurant where only free-range chickens are served on steamed organic vegetables. As we are walking to my hybrid, out of nowhere, a Gila Monster attacks. I am rushed to the hospital in critical condition with the Gila still attached to my leg. My husband, unfortunately, is traveling in Africa. It takes days for him to arrive at the hospital. He waits endlessly for a single seat to open on each of his connecting flights. Days pass, as I slowly recover. Every day, he sits by my side holding my hand. In these quiet hours, we reflect on our lives. We think about what we have done and what we have not done. We decide to start a family. Having experienced more than a passing glance at death, we devote ourselves to raising happy, healthy children who are ready to be happy, healthy, independent adults. They hear our stories through the years and one decides that we were very lucky. Many people would not have had the resources to travel across the globe to get to a loved one when tragedy strikes. She grows up and starts a foundation devoted to providing free transportation, anywhere in the world, to people who cannot afford to reach their loved ones in emergencies. On one of those flights sits a young man who travels to a train wreck in South American where his father will eventually pass. Though he is bereft at the loss of his beloved father, he dedicates himself to becoming an engineer and, one day, designs a small bolt with an intricate locking system that will ultimately save millions of lives.
It could happen. Things like this probably happen every day – a chain of seemingly coincidental events that lead us to our ultimate purpose. A purpose we cannot possibly know. I am not going to stop living what I believe are my purposes in life. I am going to wake up tomorrow no less dedicated to my family, my work or my art. I am also going to wake up to the possibility that what I think is my purpose- or what I want my purpose to be- may not be my true purpose when all is said and done. My whole purpose could be something as simple as a kindness said in passing that puts a chain of events in motion that…. And I am OK with that. I don’t need to know what it is in the end. In the end, I am going to live my life in the best way I know how: love, laugh, learn, lead and lend a hand. My purpose will take care of itself.
I took this photograph of a Woodchuck one evening while on vacation in Leavenworth. I was relaxing with my friend at her cabin and this little guy scurried across the pasture. What is the purpose of a Woodchuck? Does it matter?
No Wood Apparently, That’s How Much
(1/500 sec., f/6, 3200 ISO, 450 mm)