Thoughts on “Life Purpose”

Juxtapositions abound. My mind sifts through moments with my girls, things I have read, pictures I’ve seen, stories I’ve heard. I walk around my house nudging crooked pictures into alignment. Somehow they always find their way back to crooked. Must be more fun than being straight.

Two nights ago, Pearl read me a whole book! Chicka Chicka Boom Boom. While she read, Aviva was busy rearranging her room when she punctured her finger with a tack. After she calmed down, found her First Aid Kit from Girl Scouts (that girl is much more prepared than I am), washed her hand and adeptly applied neosporin and a band-aid, she gave me a blow-by-blow account of how it happened. By the end in her retelling, cushioned by snuggling and the relief of having made it through a painful moment, her whole hand had been covered in blood.

Aviva had been reading a book called “Fever 1793” — and couldn’t fall asleep because she was suddenly scared we might contract Yellow Fever while we slept. We all woke up intact the next morning, and instead of “throwing up black stuff” we looked together at maps on the CDC website outlining where Dengue Fever still exists (large swaths of Africa and South America). “Well, I am never going to any of those places,” she declared. Then Pearl interrupted her breakfast with an urgent need to go dust the piano, and we got out the door for school and work.

Today, I came home after work instead of exercising to walk the dog, moonlight illuminating the clouds in the cold night air. I snapped a picture with my phone and texted it to a friend, who wrote back almost immediately, “This was exactly what I needed right now.” I thought about the article I read yesterday, proposing twelve alternatives to the more ubiquitous New Year’s Resolutions. Number six came to mind (though do yourself a favor and read the whole thing):

6) Drink the awe
It’s a brutally fast-paced, Facebooked, hypertext-drunk world, my loves, and it’s just ridiculously easy to take it all for granted, to sit there and type your message into your glorious little device and attach a video and send it halfway round the world as you sip your coffee that came from 8,000 miles away and think nothing of it all, when in fact there are roughly 1,008 astonishing miracles banging around your life right this second if you just were able to realize their wobbly gifts. What a thing.

Back at home, cleaning the kitchen and bathroom felt like a gift, as if my Life Purpose–that elusive thing we are bombarded with supposed guidance and inspiration to help us discover–was as simple as scouring the kitchen sink, putting away a week’s worth of dishes, scrubbing the toilets and vacuuming the crumb-covered rugs, mopping the sticky, splattered, broken tiles in the home where my children are growing up, in the neighborhood where they can leave the house without me.

The long-held fantasy of hiring someone else to clean my house was replaced by the satisfaction of burrowing into my own space and knowing it is a blessing to have a place called Home. I washed out the cat and dog bowls, filling each with fresh, cold water from the sink. I watched the jades drink thirstily. I threw the bathmats and hand towels in the wash. Awe.

I saw the writing and pictures on the wall (gotta love bath crayons) and scrubbed, marveling as it faded at how the simplest acts of tending give us all the metaphors we need. I decided not to touch the “May there be peace on earth” part of the drawing when my thoughts circled back to the interview with Eve Ensler I read yesterday (do yourself a favor and read the whole thing):

Earlier this year, Ensler opened City of Joy, a centre in Congo that rehabilitates survivors of rape. The stories that have come from the women of this small central African country are unimaginable – women tied to trees and gangraped for weeks, women raped with sticks and bottles, even guns, women whose sons and fathers were forced at gunpoint to violate them. The centre is now home to 40 women who will have counselling, learn English, literacy and computer skills, become practised communicators and effective leaders. “It’s the most joyful place I’ve ever been in my life,” says Ensler. “In the midst of the worst circumstances, there is this city growing up, and I really believe these women will be the future of Congo. The Congo was a turning point in my life. I had been to many places where women were suffering, but the Congo was really shattering.” Because of the extremity of the violence? She nods. “To think that, in this century, any woman would be treated that way with the knowledge of the world just felt unbearable.”

City of Joy. Just take that in for a moment.

And then there was this, an email I received through Craigslist about a room for rent.

Hi. My name is M. and i am interested in your room. I have 2 small children and we are currently homeless. Housing is a must.

I could be her, or a Congolese woman. But I’m me, an educated and by most standards highly privileged woman with a home of my own to clean. I am separated from my children’s father, having come out at a time and in a place where it was relatively “safe” to do so. I am blessed that he and I continue to raise our girls with total mutual devotion. I no longer use a credit card. More than ever, I’m aware that I do not have three months’ living expenses tucked away for turbulent times–and I’d say these times qualify as turbulent.

And even–maybe especially–in moments when I am nearly paralyzed by fear of slipping on the ice of life (these come frequently enough), I’m also more-than-ever mindful that I have a fridge full of food and an adjustable thermostat, a cat sleeping on my right and a dog on my left, access to health care and novacaine and eye exams and a passport and good-smelling shampoo and a ballot box. Kine hora.

Spanning the distance between the 1% and the 99% is the real and complex journey I and every single one of us must navigate through love, work, parenting, marriage, sexuality, money, creativity, friendship, family, spirituality–and then some. Life purpose. It’s simple, and it isn’t.

So tonight I offer thanks for being home, for the laundry, the kitchen, and the yard (do yourself a favor and read the whole thing), and most of all, for the present moment. In the midst of so many juxtapositions, moments, pictures, and stories, I honestly don’t know where I’d be without it.

14 thoughts on “Thoughts on “Life Purpose”

  1. Karen Pery says:

    Jena,

    I’m struck by this, having had my own discussions of life purpose today. My thinking, in this moment: if you are alive, if you are doing the work that is in front of you and around you, if you are true to yourself and listen to your heart’s words, you are living in purpose.

    Sending you much love and understanding from miles away. xxoo

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  2. happynik says:

    Thank you so much. I love your words. These words especially open my heart a little more. I stay at home with my two children and every single day there are so many little miracles and things to be grateful for my heart could burst. Sometimes in the moments of frustration and anger something snaps and gratitude pours out for how precious every moment truly is. I don’t discount my suffering in any form, but when I recognize it, it’s easier to let it go. Thank you.

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  3. Maya says:

    “So tonight I offer thanks for being home, for the laundry, the kitchen, and the yard….and most of all, for the present moment. In the midst of so many juxtapositions…I honestly don’t know where I’d be without it.”

    I could say so many things about how much this whole entry moved me. I could tell you how stunning and poignant and deeply astute and compassionate your words are. I could tell you I am equally struck by the incongruities, the inequities, the contradictions, and the “juxtapositions” as you call them, and have been rendered equally puzzled, horrified, and grateful by the distance between here and there. I could tell you how thankful I am that you’ve given voice to this strange little beast of a life, and the complicated and sometimes contradictory movements we make in it.

    I could tell you all this but what I really want to say is thank you. And so. Thank you.

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  4. Alana says:

    This is beautiful and so *full* – of truth, of acceptance, of the miracle of awareness and the wonder of being who we are. I thought of Maezen immediately as I read. :) Some days I am able to find that feeling of purpose in the little things, some days I am not but either way, they are worth being grateful for.

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  5. Kathryn at Good Life Road says:

    Made me think of the Buddhist saying “chop wood, carry water” because it is all “Awe.” We just tend to miss it in the moment. This was so beautifully laid out. A gentle but stark reminder of what we are so blessed to have and what purpose, real purpose, really means. With a lump in my throat…Thank you.

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