What's the Purpose?
It's always something.--Roseanne Roseannadanna (Gilda Radner)
And of course, it always is. Sometimes it's a damn nuisance. Sometimes it's soul shattering. But it's always something. It's real life.
After Gilda Radner left Saturday Night Live where she created some unforgettable, funny women characters - Roseanne Roseannadanna, Emily Litells - she set out to create a life for herself. For a decade she had been a successful workaholic as life whizzed by. Falling in love with Gene Wilder helped her realize the pleasure of lowering gears. By the time they married in 1984, she wanted to pursue her dream of becoming a writer. Always observant and knowing rich material when she found it, she began a book called Portrait of the Artist as a Housewife, a collection of stories, poems, and vignettes celebrating domesticity and the humor inherent in toaster ovens and plumbers. it would have been hilarious.
But real life grabbed her attention with a diagnosis of ovarian cancer, and a grittier book emerged, It's Always Something, a defiantly irreverent, moving memoir. Like other women who struggle with life-threatening illness, Gilda mourned "my lost joy, my happiness,my exhilaration with life." The day before her diagnosis, life stretched before her, luminous in its limitless possibilities. The moment after being told she had cancer, life's dimensions shrank to twenty-four hour stretches.
In a moving essay contained in Minding the Body: Women Writers on Body and Soul, Judith Hooper rightly admonishes us; "We go around thinking about real life. Cancer is real life. When you accept cancer, it is as if new systems within the organism automatically open - like the oxygen masks and flotation systems that automatically drop in your lap on a 747 in an emergency. When you walk this earth on borrowed time, each day on the calendar is a beloved friend you know for only a short time."
You begin to live.
Why must we find a lump in our breast before this occurs? Do you know? Because I certainly don't. But I do know a wonderful woman who was very active at her children's school for many years, largely because after she had volunteered a generous amount of personal time, no one else came forward to take her place. The hours she put into her PTA related work were the equivalent of a full-time but unpaid second job. When she made the terrible discovery that she had breast cancer, she admitted to close friends that in a strange way, she was relieved. Cancer meant she could start saying "No," create boundaries, and finally put down the school committee burden without guilt. Now she could ransom back her life. After all, no one expects a woman fighting breast cancer to do anything but take care of herself. Of course, she was right.
When I heard this story I wanted to scream and cry: it was almost too much to take in. Yes, it's always something. But it doesn't always have to have your name on it. I pray we never find a lump, but I pray just as fervently that we never squander or surrender another precious day for whatever reason.
And if you've already found a lump, I pray that you'll grow Whole and old in joy, peace, and grace, gifting us for many years with your wisdom.
Heaven knows, we need it.
-Sarah Ban Breathnach, Simple Abundance, A Daybook of Comfort and Joy©1995
For a long time it had seemed to me that life was about to begin--real life. But there was always some obstacle in the way, something to be gotten through first, some unfinished business, time still to be served, a debt to be paid. Then life would begin. At last it dawned on me that these obstacles were my life.--Alfred D. Souza
It is difficult, sometimes, to grasp, to try to define the whole concept. Sometimes it is easier just to not think about it. I mean, you can spend a whole lot of your waking hours trying to understand the meaning of life...
Jesus was pretty clear about His purpose. It was to teach love, along with many other lessons. The mission of Jesus, Buddha, Mohammed, Lao Tse and others, was to demonstrate the lessons to those who would learn the lessons. I assume that my purpose, generally speaking, is to learn and grow - that this life is my classroom. Does that mean that all of the confusion, the pain and suffering that I often experience, is because I am deserving of some punishment so that I can learn a lesson from it? What about something like a long, slow death from cancer or some other affliction. Punishment? Of course not! But guilt is something that comes naturally to me. First thing that happens when I, or someone I care about, recieves a diagnosis that will result in certain death, the thought crosses the mind: What did I (they) do wrong, why me (them)? What did I (they) do to deserve this? Where is the purpose in this? What about the other purpose I (they) thought my (their) life had? Knowing the true purpose of one's life might, indeed, be a powerful thing. Especially when death comes a-calling.
To return to God, to become One with the All, to attain Nirvana, to go to heaven - worthy goals, all of them. But, not a single purpose amongst the lot of them. Iyanla Vanzant tells me that goals are where I end up, the what of my life; she goes on to say that purpose is what propels me along the way, the driving force of my existence, the why of my life. What does that leave? The how of my life - my mission: everyday experience-gathering processes, interactions with others and the nurturing of self. Figuring it all out can take some time. It was not necessary to grasp and understand the goal, the purpose, and the mission all at once - it was o.k. that life didn't come to a grinding halt first. It often takes a life crisis to bring us to our knees long enough to understand that we really should give the subject some thought, before it is too late. Sometimes, it is the death of a classmate from school, gone too soon. It's always something.
It is a scope-in-progress thing for me. It was and is gradually defined, refined and re-defined in accordance with my understanding of my God, my place in the Universe, and how that relates to others around me, because I am not alone on this journey. What is the purpose? Oh, there is one, trust me. Remember, it's always something.
Sarah is right. Sometimes it is just a damn nuisance. But it beats the alternative. Ask Ann, still surviving (thriving, in fact!) after three years with a diagnosis of breast cancer. She has goal, purpose and mission. Funny how some things become clear in an instant. Those are not obstacles, they are opportunities.
What's the purpose? You'll figure it out. Give it time. And effort.
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