by Michael Dunn

Age 58. Harrison, ME

We are animated stardust and have as much purpose as stardust.

To believe one has found purpose is to think pretty highly of oneself. My life has no purpose other than the one imbued in it by virtue of being a living organism. I eat, breed, die. In death I hope that my body will feed other life. No, I have no purpose and I don’t think anyone truly does. Indeed, like Spinoza, I think that if God exists, God can have no purpose and no will. We just happened. I often think that “I” is an illusion conjured by matter that I call me.

No! I enjoy the huge mystery of life as much as I like thinking I’ve figured out tiny little bits of it.

Does that make me a miserable, depressed, amoral nihilist? No! I enjoy the huge mystery of life as much as I like thinking I’ve figured out tiny little bits of it. I am planting trees that others will enjoy when I’m inanimate. I have two awesome, bright children and love my wife dearly. I have fun thinking and talking about religion, culture, politics, math, science, education. I try to understand others and to love non-judgmentally. There is so much to know and I am sometimes frustrated by not being a more agile learner.

But at night, I look up and I realize that I am animated stardust and have as much purpose as stardust.


PURPOSE: The Divinity of Silence

by Judith Barcroft

Age 72. Fire Island, NY

I am sitting at our old wooden dining table at Fire Island. My husband has gone back to the city and I decided to stay out here for the quiet, the peace, the solitude. “To be still” from the Latin “to vacate” . At my age I need my naps and sabbaths.

I am what the Church of Heavenly Rest has taken to calling the “third age.” Apparently, it is the end of my season, my purpose, too, if the third age is another way of saying “the final stage,” the autumn of one’s years.


I do not look the way I looked as a young actress. There is grey in my long blonde hair, and I shouldn’t wear it down anymore, because, according to Joan Rivers, if some guy were following me because of my long blonde hair, and I turned around, they would scream! Passersby see right through me. I cannot depend on youth, or beauty, fame, or fortune. I’ve got to face it, I’m an “old lady”. Saint Paul says , “While the outside is wasting away, the inside is being built up.” (I wish the outside would waste away a little more.) If I can’t depend on my outward self, I’d better start listening to my inward self, hopefully a God-dwelling place. That is why David Brooks’ phrase ,”a bucket list for the soul”, so intrigues me. There is a prayer I like which says something to the effect that one’s spiritual life begins on any day, at any hour, redeeming the past, sanctifying the present, brightening the future. Spiritual growth and wisdom are part of aging for me. The nearer I get to an age where death might be appropriate(my mother died at my age), the more protective I get of my soul, the more I search for definition and purpose.

My husband has been planning his funeral service. He wants lots of Southern hymns, white flowers, and no eulogy. His request is food for thought, because in contrast, I would love a eulogy! I want Bach cello, white flowers, and praise for my talents in theater and art, for my creative and spiritual depth, for being a wonderful wife , mother, and grandmother, for my hospitality, cooking, teaching, mentoring, healing, listening; Ah! She “honored God with her substance and was a faithful steward of His bounty”.
I think we often need to build up a little graven image of ourselves, full of glory and honors, fame and compliments, a false idol, with our autographs and photos all over it, our names and credits in every ego-boosting tweet and twitter. 


A eulogy can be a graven image. And I would like not to need one. But that would require humility.
I have heard that a clown’s white face symbolizes death to self. Perhaps getting older is a process of, not only cleaning house, getting rid of all that “moth and rust consume”, but also of emptying oneself; as I become less, God can become more.

In the movie, “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape”, the Johnny Depp character is asked what he wants to be, and he answers that he just wants to be a good person. So simple. So humble. So I can feel a chang in my purpose and ambition. Sometimes God just asks you to sit in the garden (or at Fire Island), and wait, wait in the wilderness with no spectacular spiritual event, no light on the road to Damascus, no new book, or Broadway show, no works to bring success or captivate an audience, no title, but rather to wait, with no attachment to the outcome. “I will take you into the desert and there I will speak to you in the depths of your heart”(Hosea). To wait in prayer without ceasing, in the divinity of silence. Grace. Purpose in Humility.

So I would put “humility” on my moral bucket list, 


in hopes that my soul won’t need to be puffed up with my eulogy; so I can depart this life and enter the next dimension with the simple words from the Book of Common Prayer: ” I know that my redeemer liveth” and that hopefully I come to God, “and not as a stranger”.


by Bruce D. Kent

Age 65. Port Clinton, OH

The Ghost of Christmas Present was right, our business is humanity.  When I turned 59, I decided to spend one year evaluating my life.  When I turned 60, I realized that most of my life had been defined by the word “me”.  I decided that I needed to change that to “we”.  We have a world with enough resources so that no one should go to bed hungry or ill if we just didn’t waste so much in useless conflict and egocentrism.  I am pragmatic enough to know that I can have little effect on the macro plane of life, but I can make a difference in the microcosm.  That’s what I am trying to do.

My son gave me an ecosphere for my 64 b-day  It is a window above my desk.  I look at it every day, watching the brine shrimp going about their daily lives.  They share food and space with each other.  They don’t fight nor do they try to hog their limited resources.  People could learn a lot from those shrimp.

I look at it every day, watching the brine shrimp going about their daily lives. . . People could learn a lot from those shrimp.

This discovery of purpose has been a long time coming.  I was lead in this direction 50 years ago while in 8th grade.  My English teacher had us read a book that really effected me:  John Steinbeck’s The Pearl.  Other books that challenged me included The Grapes of Wrath, All Quiet on the Western Front.  Jesus’ philosophy as found in the Gospel of Matthew, Sermon on the Mount and the separating of the goats and sheep have also been major factors in my life.





by Henry Robinson

Age 52. Summerville, SC

For years and years I thought my purpose in life was to earn degrees, find rewarding work, make money, raise a family and live the American dream. If my home were larger and my vacations better than my father before me or my neighbors next to me, then I would be successful; I would have arrived.  And I did that. I did arrive. I did have more stuff, great kids, faster cars, more bathrooms with expensive fixtures and more money in the bank.  Yet that arrival of sorts left me feeling empty. If I had indeed arrived, I did not only not enjoy the journey, but I found that I didn’t like the destination either.

Then something happened.  I lost a lot of the money, I got divorced and I had what one might call “a dark night of the soul.” In the midst of great repair and depression, I found an opening and I crawled through. It led to a path and without knowing what I was signing up for and where this path would take me, I started off on a new journey. This journey was called “truth” and I have been on this journey for six years now.  It is not without bumps and tears and hard times, but it has purpose.  The purpose is simply to find out what is real and what is false.  America is asleep, lulled into a dream for a lucky few with means and a nightmare for the masses. The dream brought on by overblown egos, shrewd marketers, and unscrupulous corporations has us believing that more is better, that growth is always good and more importantly that we are all separate individuals competing for the crumbs disguised as gold nuggets that we believe will bring us happiness.

My purpose now is simply to wake up, remove the veil and see what is real. In doing so, the ego subsides and spirit emerges. Disunity gives way to unity. Dreams give way to reality and my secondary purpose, also known as my work, will reveal itself.  The ego cannot be the catalyst for real purpose.  Yes, it may allow you to build skyscrapers and create fabulous iPhone apps, but real purpose is sourced from Spirit.



by Donna Sav

Age 63. New York, NY

Instead, I read, I listen, I think, and so I learn and stretch my appreciation for my life.

So, for me, I guess my purpose is mining (of course, I mean that figuratively). Most people would probably characterize me as a solitary person, but I do look forward to my days. I’m not really good at meeting and mingling. Instead, I read, I listen, I think, and so I learn and stretch my appreciation for my life. I actively dig for treasure every day and I’ve come to understand a thing or two about myself. If happiness means over the moon, I’m surely not there and likely never will be. But, I’m relatively free from hardship and so, daily, I inspire myself to graciously embrace a good enough life.


PURPOSE: How Far Do I Bow?

by Tristan Keller

Age 19. Switzerland.

Honestly, I’m not sure if I found the purpose of my life. I’m still quite young, but I can share my view of life with you.

I don’t know why I’m here or why I exist. I don’t know if there’s a god or not. Frankly, I don’t even need this kind of information in my life. The only truth I know is that I find fulfillment in my relationships and living life to the fullest. I love to talk to people, to help them, to make them smile and to share new experiences. My main goal is to help people and to enjoy every precious moment with them. Contributing something to our society and not wanting anything in return, that’s what gives me purpose.

The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself, but still carry yourself in a respectable way.

You should start to appreciate the little things in life, like a cup of coffee with a friend, a conversation with a complete stranger or being alone with a person you love. If virtues like solidarity and love would be more promoted and everybody would practice them day by day, the world would be a way better place. The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself, but still carry yourself in a respectable way.

There’s a quote from an Italian movie called “La Vita è Bella” (Life is Beautiful), which is still stuck in my head. There’s this guy who works as a waiter in a restaurant and asks his uncle how low he should bow, when he’d greet guests:

Guido: (learning how to be a waiter) How far do I bow? I suppose I can even go 180 degrees.

Eliseo: Think of a sunflower, they bow to the sun. But if you see some that are bowed too far down, it means they’re dead. You’re here serving, you’re not a servant. Serving is the supreme art. God is the first of servants. God serves men, but he’s not a servant to men.

That’s how I want to live my life. I want to serve, but I don’t want to be a servant.


by Quentin Colgan

Age 72. Columbus, OH

There is little doubt that for anyone the road to character is rife with pitfalls and potholes.  But there can be even less doubt that for some the road to character is even more challenging than for most….

In response to your invitation, I would like to write about a young woman by the name of Virginia Cyr.  From the very first, her life was filled with hardships.  At the age of four the first signs of Cerebral Palsy appeared, at which point her mother abandoned the family.  From that time on Virginia lived in one institution after another; from orphanages to boarding schools, and eventually to a hospital for the elderly and infirm—even though at the time Virginia was in her early twenties.

One could certainly understand and possibly even expect that a person who went through life with so many “strikes” against her would have been angry and filled with self-pity.  But such was not the case.  Virginia was one of the most positive—even radiant—individuals one could ever hope to meet.  Without fail, people who met Virginia wished to stay in touch with her.  In fact many invited her into their homes.  She received so many invitations that she usually kept a suitcase packed for any eventuality.  Her spiritual director suggested to her that she had become God’s little hobo.  She embraced the idea wholeheartedly.  As a result, at the time of her death at the age of 24 in 1967, her list of correspondents numbered in the hundreds.

And so I love the stars, and mostly how I love to laugh with them at their brilliance and my own humble dignity.”

It was my great privilege to have been very close to Virginia—a confidant and friend.  Her road to character was forged in loneliness and formed by Faith.  Virginia had always wished to join a religious community, but because of her physical disability no community would accept her.  Instead she took vows privately.  She had a great devotion to Mary, the mother of Jesus. 

In fact her journals were written as “letters” to Mary.  Those journals contain many passages astounding for their insight, beauty and humor.  Here are a few examples:

  • “Do I smile in my sleep?  I should; each heartbeat, breath, every second of life is a proclamation of God’s goodness.”
  • “I’m nearly afraid tonight, afraid of my weakness because it hides such strength.”
  • “If I live in His Love, even my tears are precious, and in complete humility I can become an Alleluia from head to toe.”
  • “The stars are out again, always, though daylight still fills the sky.  And when the stars appear soon I shall laugh at them, as I do so often.  For there they sparkle and thousands of little souls look upon them.  Yet, as Father Lucien once reminded me, ‘Not a star that floats through space will ever see God face-to-face.’  And so I love the stars, and mostly how I love to laugh with them at their brilliance and my own humble dignity.”
  • “Please send [the angel] Raphael to assist a very weary hobo, to make her love strong.  All other weakness…I welcome.”
  • “I AM that others might have life, abundantly. How or when is not for me to ask.”
  • “Please let the incessant heartache I bear be this, that Jesus has given me His Heart and my littleness cannot contain its immensity, and in its lack of universality reels but, O please, does not skip a beat.”


by Adam Winnicky

Age 49. New Smyrna Beach, FL

I applaud you for your recent column, “What is your purpose?”   As a 49 year old sales manager, who spends most of my waking hours writing business related emails, participating in marathon like conference calls, and furnishing Excel spreadsheets to the corporate machine, such inquiries are not surprisingly, conspicuously absent and purposely avoided.  Amongst a few close personal friends however, this subject is common, and discussed quite frequently.  Unfortunately, such conversations often end with an inconclusive consensus as to what to do next, and more than a few empty bottles of beer and wine.
I am of the belief that there are many individuals that find such introspection and self- evaluation a bit too complex or challenging to answer, especially if one is not predisposed to being a “reflective” person. 

Perhaps this question is avoided because many of us may not be able to furnish a satisfying answer.  Many people I encounter, particularly those in the corporate environment, would prefer to keep running on the Hamster wheel, afraid to get off, for fear that they may lose their own pointless race to nowhere.  For those of us who refuse to become Hamsters, these questions are often the root cause of insomnia.

If this topic is to be explored properly and purposefully, perhaps it is best done in a sober, solitary, and honestly adventurous state of mind, rather than after the third cocktail amongst people in your comfort zone. 


Some may dismiss this exercise as a futile exploration to explain what may very well be unknowable or even unachievable.  Ultimately though, the examination of one’s own purpose in life is a moral obligation, as it demands all of us to question whether or not the path we are following is a straight line to a specific destination, or a large oval leading you back to the same place you started.

From my own personal perspective, I do not believe that we are all hard wired to find a specific purpose in our life.  One should consider themselves fortunate just to discover a direction that they feel content to explore.  I am reminded of a quote which graced the Denver Post…. “There is no hope for the satisfied man”.  My interpretation of this quote is that one should strive to maintain curiosity and a passionate, unrelenting quest for knowledge.  This is a blueprint for a life well lived.

HERO: Four Pivotal Women

by Sue Adams

Age 52. Kansas City, MO

These four women had the profound effect of making and forming my personhood. 

Amy Thompson was my good college friend who was killed by a man when she was 26 who tried to steal her car. She lived three years physically incapacitated but mentally and spiritually alive as no one I have ever known. She exhibited profound courage and forgiveness and witness to Spirit.

My chum Naomi was the housekeeper to my grandparents for fifty years in Wellington Kansas. She saw me really saw me when I felt completely invisible to everyone else in my immediate family. She exemplified unconditional love and hope to me.

Mrs Carper was a family friend who I traveled with as a young woman. She was a spiritual guide to me and also connected with me in a profound way, making me feel much smarter and important and loved than I ever could have been.

Mrs Cornelius was the mother of my best friend from age two to thirteen. She raised me with love and fun and conversation. I couldn’t get enough of her when I was little.

These four extraordinary gals were my touchstones during my formative years and I still try to make them proud of me.


by Lydia DuBois

Age 19. Baltimore, MD

Growing up in hyper-competitive New York City, I believe I’ve been raised in a culture that leads students to believe that where we choose to complete our higher education has a strong correlation with personal identity. This is not to say that the learning and effort I put in to my high school achievements was all for university acceptance, but I do believe that a prestigious school’s affirmation that you, yes, YOU are fit to attend does present us with some validity that we’ve all been foaming at the mouth for ever since we received our first round-of-applause in Kindergarten.

After spending two years in college, (well, 3 semesters because I took my Fall 2014 semester off to farm and contemplate the possibility of being “present”) I have found that I am more confused than I was when I entered. I constantly ask myself: What does it mean to be educated?

If you speak to anyone that knows me, they’ll tell you that I’ve complained about the competitive nature of school and the linear process it has absorbed over the years. (I say “linear” referring to finishing in four years: I genuinely wonder whose idea it was to coin the phrase: “graduate on time.” Talk about pressure.)


They’ll probably also tell you that I question the overall purpose of higher education, that I value uncertainty, and that I could talk for hours about what the hell we’re doing here. What the hell are we doing here?

To some, probably to many, and often, to myself, my opinion and my choice of conversation seem entitled and unappreciative: why don’t I just hold my tongue and be thankful for the amazing opportunity I’ve been given? Why don’t I just get the degree and move on?

My purpose in life is to do things differently. To be exciting. To feel fulfilled. To question everything. I can’t tell you where I’ll be next year, but I’ll say that one day I’ll have a diploma. I can’t tell you what I’ll be doing tomorrow, but I will eventually finish that essay. I’ll probably look back on this writing in two days, when I turn twenty, and say, “how foolish I was as a teenager!”

I also must analyze my choice to question college as one of fearlessness.


I have found that in talking with my friends and peers, many people seem to agree with my sentiments. I get a sense, however, that people are afraid to ask themselves the questions that I ask, such as: Why college? What am I doing here? Does completing a degree make me a more educated person? What does it mean to be educated? because they’re afraid that if they truly allow themselves to answer these, they’ll somehow veer off the linear track.

My purpose is to challenge everything, and in doing that, to challenge myself. To self-analyze, to reflect, to write, to contemplate. I scare myself sometimes, because with questions come answers that our upbringings and inherited values have hidden in the dark for too long. So bring on the answers, brain! But promise me that for every seemingly-confirming sentence, you’ll remind me it’s once again time to insert a question mark, to lift my left eyebrow, and to be conscientiously curious.