PURPOSE: The Whisper In Someone’s Ear

by Jae S. Brown

Age 38. Atlanta, GA

In communities where the distrust between officers and its citizens are always high, a white police officer saved a young black male from himself.  At the age of 19, I was young and misguided.  One night two friends and I went to a party.  While at the party, all three of us participated in drinking alcohol and smoking marijuana.  We realized our mistake at the end of the night.  We talked it over and came to the decision I was the best person to drive us home.  Obviously our decision-making skills had been diminished, but the choice to put me behind the wheel would ultimately save us all.

Out walks this police officer who looks just like the kind of officer who doesn’t like black people.


While driving home, I was stopped for erratic driving.  Out walks this police officer who looks just like the kind of officer who doesn’t like black people.  In my mind I am saying, “The Man is stopping me, The Man trying to hold me down” In reality it’s my own actions that brought me to this fateful moment.  There I was a young black male living out the stereotype; this was definitely not the person I envisioned myself being.  The police officer asked me to step outside of the car.  He smelled the marijuana on my body and asked had I been smoking.  I said “yes”.  He then asked had I been drinking.  Once again I said “yes”.  His next question was, if he searched my car would he find alcohol or drugs.  I said no to alcohol but explained I may have some remnants of marijuana in the car.  “Why are you trying to get home?” the officer asked.  I told him I was in college and had to study for a test in the morning.  In a surprised tone he asked, “You are in college?” I told him yes. He then asked if my two passengers were in college.  I said “no”.

The officer saw me in a different light and whispered in my ear, “Don’t let your friends get you in trouble you can’t get yourself out of.”


The officer saw me in a different light and whispered in my ear, “Don’t let your friends get you in trouble you can’t get yourself out of.”  He let me go and told me go straight home.  That night changed my life.  I could have easily been locked up for a DUI and possession, but this officer gave me a second chance.  I ended my first year of college with a GPA below 2.0.  A change of scenery was needed so I joined the Army.  Knowing this second chance could be my last, I have followed the officer’s advice and often speculate how life would be had he not taken a bet on me.

My purpose in life is to mentor, provide that whisper in someone’s ear that changes their life.  I relish the opportunity to tell my extended story to kids, adults, convicts and anyone who will listen.  I have learned success principles, endless career paths and programs that will help people out of their situation.  When I cannot provide an answer I vigorously search for one. My dream is to be a professional mentor and motivator of the masses.   I went from being an arrest away from drug charges to the Ivy League and many things in between.  I do all this knowing the grace of an understanding officer, allowed me to write this letter today.

PURPOSE: “Formidable Advocate”

by Georgian Lussier

Age 65. Wallingford, CT

It seems I find purpose though critical events.  Those times when you are challenged to go beyond your experiences to date.  My moniker could be ‘formidable advocate.’  Advocate for people I love, issues I think I am informed about.  An early example: Michael, my beloved older brother, suffered a traumatic brain injury when I was 25, in 1975.  I learned to challenge medical ‘experts’, fight for benefits, and basically hang in there with him during his 13 years of total disability.  A professional example is more recent.  In 2010, after running a jobs program with Stimulus funds, I realized older, accomplished women were uniquely disadvantaged in the ‘recovering’ market.  I formed a small group, self-published a book, and now host a community TV program that highlights women’s stories.  So my purpose is to use my talents to speak up and pitch in.  It’s not always pretty, but comes from a deep commitment.

My moniker could be ‘formidable advocate.’  Advocate for people I love, issues I think I am informed about. 


I am lucky to have loyal people in my life, who cheer me on (although the traumatic brain injury experience was isolating). While I am not church-going these days, my Mom was religious, and I went to Catholic schools.  I sent my daughter to a Catholic school because I wanted her to be in an environment where values were explicit.  Life does get complicated, but trusting my moral compass helps me to act on what my inner voice says is the right direction.

HERO: Jane Goodall

by Susan Morris

Age 57. Livermore, CA

I have lots of heroes. Some I follow in the news to guide my thinking, some I call on Sunday mornings to check in, some are fictional but they inform my personal myth. But of all the real people today that I look up to, Jane Goodall has been a lasting and quiet but powerful inspiration. I have always loved her soft-spoken, unassuming way of going about things. Public voice only existed to get her what she needed. She never seemed to want to say, “this is who I am” so much as “this is what I need to do.” She wasn’t given her life with the animals. That life seems to have come to her, and she simply embraced it wholeheartedly and proceeded to pour all her time, money and talent into doing the task before her.

I love that everything she does seems to look easy;

YOU GET THE SENSE THAT SHE COULD QUIET A NOISY CROWD…JUST BY CLEARING HER THROAT.

the research, the speaking, the fundraising… When you see her she just looks quiet but powerful. You know she must be exhausted but she seems to have a connection to some limitless well that both guides her and feeds her. You get the sense that she could quiet a noisy crowd and get them to focus just by clearing her throat. “Excuse me,” she might say. “I need to go save the world for the next generation. Could I have tea and biscuits to go?”

PURPOSE: A Wayside Wildflower

by Ellen Linza

Age 54. Aldie, VA

Have you ever wondered how it is that a single magnificent tree or wayside wildflower so effortlessly fulfills its mission

Truly good people reflect the inner light you spoke of encountering because they believe in goodness as life itself and connect with it.  They are attracted to the loving presence in all living things and have great empathy and compassion.  They seek out natural beauty and find much wisdom in nature.

Have you ever wondered how it is that a single magnificent tree or wayside wildflower so effortlessly fulfills its mission – its divine life purpose – so perfectly and joyously?  Seek out the goodness in the world and you will find it reflected in the myriad of living things all around you.  Gain hope from natural beauty and try to replicate the profound simplicity of radiating the love of goodness in each moment of awareness.

 

PURPOSE: The Basics of Geometry

by Carolyn Mahaffey

Age 69. Midland, MI

Before class, I sometimes would sit in the chair of a student who was having a lot of trouble and pray that I might be a blessing to him that day. 

The smell of the chalkboard has always thrilled me.  I never minded the mess from the  copy machine. Before class, I sometimes would sit in the chair of a student who was having a lot of trouble and pray that I might be a blessing to him that day.  Yes, for 37 years I was a teacher, the last 25 as a high school special education teacher.  That was my purpose, that was my calling.  It was enough, it was challenging, and of course there never was a dull day.

But now I am retired and I am adrift.  What is my purpose now? I struggle with it every day.  When I was teaching I would bound out of bed 6:15 every morning.  Now I wake early, but stay under the covers, filled with a world’s worth of anxiety.

It might have been better had I died why trying to teach students with learning disabilities the basics of geometry.

 

PURPOSE: On October 11, 1995 My Daughter Was Born

by Scott Addington

Age 54. Fort Collins, CO

I began an earnest search for purpose at age 18, when I dropped out of college (I wasn’t finding my purpose there!) and spent the next thirteen years drifting. I moved to Wyoming and then to California, played music, lived in a tent, started an organic vegetable farm and lived a minimalist life. During this time I also looked inside books, hoping an author could explain purpose to me.

As is often the case, my purpose became clearly evident after I had stopped looking for it.


As is often the case, my purpose became clearly evident after I had stopped looking for it. On October 11, 1995 my daughter was born. Beginning with that moment, there has never been the slightest doubt regarding the purpose and source of meaning in my life. Being a father is the most meaningful and rewarding pursuit a man could ever hope to experience. Perhaps that is built into our survival as a species – that our greatest purpose can be found in the very act that perpetuates our existence.

PURPOSE: Chaos Starts in My Head

by Alina Winter

Age 22. Germany

I feel like as soon as I want to define myself or my purpose in this world, chaos starts in my head and no possible answer would forever perfectly define my personality or purpose.

Sometimes I wonder whether I’m a phoney, cause I’m so many personalities at once…


Sometimes I wonder whether I’m a phoney, cause I’m so many personalities at once… I can be shy, outgoing, thoughtful, reckless… different groups of friends through different parts of my life would draw my picture completely differently. Which is weird. But then I don’t want to and I don’t see a reason to define a character or purpose for myself. This would limit me. This would mean I’m done, I’ve figured it out. Instead I wanna keep my mind open and be inspired by always changing thoughts and ideas… One day I’m in love with Nietzsches Geneology of Morality, another day I’m going for Kants perpetual peace. And another day I hate the idea of thought and intellectual occupation. I don’t express my ideals as other do, cause I know that probably they are just a phase. I don’t wanna restrict myself to just one idea, or the world to just one meaning.

But then I don’t want to and I don’t see a reason to define a character or purpose for myself. This would limit me. This would mean I’m done, I’ve figured it out.


To some people I might appear empty, without opinion or passion… the truth is, I have too much of it. Sometimes it makes me feel lost and confused not having defined myself and instead I feel myself being defined by other people in so many wrong, too simple ways. And sometimes I’m envious of some of my friends who already seem to have arrived, selling their character traits and telling each other, “that’s so you!” But then I don’t wanna be stuck to a role, not just yet? Maybe I could say that, following my instant emotions and desires, has brought me many magical moments, but also alot of trouble. But I’m less afraid of trouble than I am of losing my impulsive self and becoming too reasonable and self-restrictive with age.

 

PURPOSE: I Wonder If I Can Do It

by Howard Handlen

Age 85. Jekyll Island, GA

In a short story by Somerset Maugham, entitled SALVATORE, the author writes about a simple fisherman who lives on the Italian island of Ischia. Maugham begins by saying, “I wonder if I can do it.” He goes on in just a few pages to recount the life Salvatore had.

It was one with constant disappointments; he had to spend a wretched time in the king’s navy, ever longing for the island home he loved so. He fell ill to chronic rheumatism in China and was invalided out of the navy. Arriving home his sweetheart tells him she cannot marry him, as his family thinks him in too humble circumstances and she herself will not marry a man who would never be strong enough to work like a man. Though his life is shot through with misfortune, he never complains; he never blames anybody for anything.

In young manhood Maugham describes him as “a fellow … still with that ingenuous smile and those trusting, kindly eyes that he had as a boy. He had the most beautiful manners I have ever seen in my life.” Maugham concludes by saying “I started by saying that I wondered if I can do it and now I must tell you what it is I have tried to do. I wanted to see if I could hold your attention for a few pages while I drew for you the portrait of a man, just an ordinary fisherman, who possessed nothing in the world except a quality that is the rarest, the most precious and the loveliest that anyone can have. Heaven only knows why he should have so strangely possessed it. All I know is that it shone in him with a radiance that, if it had not been so unconscious and so humble, would have been to the common run of men hardly bearable. And in case you have not guessed what the quality was, I will tell you. Goodness, just goodness.”

The road to high good character is paved with acts of goodness.

Who can say that Maugham was wrong? The road to high good character is paved with acts of goodness. In my life I came early to understand that a life well lived cannot be without just plain goodness. Such a life hinges on adhering to the the moral rights and wrongs I learned from my parents, the moral constraints and philosophical reasoning taught by my teachers, and not least the observation that came late to me that the truly happy people in this world were those who owned that precious goodness Maugham spoke of in its many manifestations, irrespective of social place and standing.

every right carries with it a corresponding responsibility

The moral principle that ran through all these things was this: every right carries with it a corresponding responsibility; every right is conditional. I cannot think of one that is not. Means and ends are always joined; when they are forced apart, nature is aggrieved, as, for example, it is in our time when sex is contrived to be irrelevant to, and separate from, its self evident purpose universally demonstrated in all of biological nature.

Some famous people have noted the inseparability of rights and responsibilities, means and ends: Justice Holmes famously asked, “Does one have the right to shout ‘fire’ in a crowded theater (when there is no fire)?” Justice Potter Stuart put it this way: “It’s not so much whether one has the right to do something, as it is whether the something is the right thing to do.” The Catholic prelate Fulton Sheen actually offered a definition of the concept ‘freedom.’ He said that there were three versions of human freedom abroad in the world: one had it that freedom is the right to do as you please (in western societies) or that it is the right to do as you must (in totalitarian societies), and finally the true definition, the right to do as you ought. In the moral order, he argued, rights and wrongs are not subject to the democratic whim of the voters. “In the moral order right is right if nobody (none of the voters) is right, and wrong is wrong is wrong if everybody (all of the voters) is wrong.” He added that legality does not always mean morally right.

the essential purpose of life is to know what really matters and what really does not, and do them however inconvenient they may be.

The separation of rights from their constraints in societies is in my view the basic cause of the anxiety and unrest in its members. Indeed the most often words heard in public speech are ‘rights’ and ‘freedom.’ But I have not heard anybody define these words. We hear then shouted in every public forum; and not just shouted; we demand them as we we march in the street. The Founding Fathers acknowledged them, especially in the first ten amendments, the Bill of Rights. The Fathers certainly knew that such rights did not come without conditions, but they did not make a Bill of Responsibilities. Nobody asked for it then and nobody shouts or marches now demanding responsibilities.

I regret to say that I have not always acted out these convictions; I simply know that no life really worth living is possible without understanding this simply. I am a very old party now but I can attest to the wisdom of all the people who told me, in word and deed, that the essential purpose of life is to know what really matters and what really does not, and do them however inconvenient they may be.

 

 

PURPOSE: But I Am Interested in Love

by Alayne Crossman

Age 42. Ottawa, Ontario

I have always felt somewhat inadequate in that I have never had big ambitions career-wise. But what I am interested in is love. I am keenly interested in learning how to love people as fully as possible, with openness and with vulnerability. This is a scary endeavor because it does open you up to all kinds of potential hurt and heartache. However, it may also save you. How does one love with no strings attached or is that even possible?

But what I am interested in is love.

I am very lucky in that I was born into a family so full of love that it cannot be contained or toned down. We are protective of each other. I do not want my sisters, my mother nor my children to get hurt and yet, isn’t that limiting their experiences? Part of being human is risk-taking and when we risk by loving others, it is joyful but it also opens us up to sadness. When someone we love hurts, we hurt too.

Without the love of my family I wouldn’t be who I am today. It means I cry during “Frozen”, every single time. It means I cry when I listen to Van Morrison’s “Ancient Highway.” I am ridiculously sentimental because I chose to remain open to this vast, messy thing we call life. I would be doing a disservice to life if I closed myself off in an effort to fend off the pain of being human.

I am ridiculously sentimental because I chose to remain open to this vast, messy thing we call life.

I am moved by the tender moments of my life such as my daughter singing “Hey Ho” to me over Skype when I was away from her this week. I am moved by my nephew’s first grade “graduation” when he stood up in front of the whole class to get his High Flyin’ Friend award; he was so proud that his mum (my wonderful sister), his grandmother (my wonderful mother) and his auntie were there to witness this seemingly miniscule but meaningful event in his young life.

I don’t deny that being loving when it is combined with a lot of passion has its drawbacks. It means I left a marriage because I was unhappy in it. But it also means that I haven’t become bitter or cynical about love. I refuse to be bitter. It may seem the opposite of love to leave a marriage but it was the right choice for me and because it was the hardest decision I ever had to make, I will never judge any other person who gets separated or divorced. Love is liberating in that it forces you to think for yourself about the particular ethics of a situation. It can mean that you withhold judgment or even opinion on a subject if you care about that person and try to see things from their perspective.

But it also means that I haven’t become bitter or cynical about love. I refuse to be bitter.

I think choosing to love people means you value the ordinary moments a little bit more. In fact, it means that you consider ordinary moments to be sacred. It means you try to live in the moment a bit more by listening to others and by trying to love someone in the way in which they need you to love them.

Needless to say, learning to love whole-heartedly and fully is a life-long journey, and it is one that I intend to continue to explore in my life.

PURPOSE: PREPARE, HELP, UNDERSTAND, PRACTICE

by Lyle Nelson

Age 80. St. Paul, MI

In response to your complicated question “do you think you have found the purpose to your life” I must qualify my answer by saying my purpose in life has changed as I’ve progressed through the aging process.  I’m currently 80 years old with a life expectancy of 8.8 years.

At this time my purpose in life is to:

1.  Make preparation for death in an orderly and logical manner in all areas.

2.  Help my children(3) and grandchildren (4) to meet the vicissitudes of life.

3.  Help my 125 year old inner city church survive for the immediate future.

4.  Participate in politics at all levels in a relaxed manner.

5.  Write letters to the editor to comment on whatever issue that gets my attention.

6.  Maintain a small garden to experience the miracle of growing things.

7.  Eat breakfast periodically at the Salvation Army with 200 homeless people to get an understanding of basic survival.

8.  Practice philanthropy in the broadest sense.

I found my purpose in life by living day to day.