Why are we here? What’s your purpose?
Well after discovering the adaptive strength of accepting myself and my disability, I grip my walking stick one sunny spring day, hobbling and limping through a beautifully wooded section of a national park. Feeling somewhat philosophical, I’m wondering if a particular oak has a purpose.
Let’s take a look at the life of an oak tree. It starts as an acorn. It is warmed by the spring sun. Deep inside it starts growing. Finally, the stress of being pent up in a little shell is greater than its fear of what’s outside. Tentatively, at first, it starts to grow. As the seasons pass, it gets bigger and stronger.
The oak is battered by the typical storms of life. One storm is so severe, the tree is disabled, a huge limb torn away by lightning. What does it do then? Does it curl up and refuse to grow, or will it adapt? Without a thought, it absolutely adapts.
It continues to live, to grow, putting more and more energy into the limbs that remain.
In time, it produces acorns that will produce more oak trees. So what is the oak tree’s purpose? It seems that the oak’s purpose is to be the best, biggest, greenest, healthiest oak that it can be in the situation in which it finds itself; in this state, it is best suited to provide food and shelter to forest denizens.
It’s All About Growth
Holding my cane squarely in front of me, I lean forward on it and look down a large hill, over miles of lush green trees and bushes. A charred, partially rotted stump injects the reality of death. Tiny new plants growing in the rich nutrients of the decaying stump testify that its existence has always been about growth, first its own. For the bigger it got, the more food and shelter it provided. And in death, its existence is still about growth, the growth of others.
One definition of life is growth. When we stop growing, we start decaying. But, through our legacies and through books, films, memoirs and journals we can still pass on wisdom to grow by to generations that come behind us.
When I apply this meaning of life to things I come across, it makes sense. Our purposes in life does not change because we become rich or poor, disabled or athletic, Christian or Atheist, fat or thin or any other thing. Our purpose is to nourish offspring and/or to nourish the lives around us. The lesson in the oak shows that growing and evolving and helping others do the same is what life has always been about.
Let’s take a grove of ancient oak trees. To a member of British or Irish priestly class, Druids, oaks could represent a sacred place of worship. To a craftsman, they may represent a table or a chair. And to a logger, they may mean a day’s work. In short, our lives have the meaning you or I give it.
Disabilities Change Nothing
Disabilities or any other challenges we face, regardless of their significance, have little to do with whether or not we recognize and fulfill our purpose. As I grow old enough to consider past choices, I’m realizing that we’re held accountable by ourselves, if no one else, for the ways we spend our time. Since I’ve recognized and begun pursuing my purpose like it’s a responsibility instead of something silly or vague, life seems so much richer.
I imagine I’m at a funeral. It doesn’t much matter whether it is in a church, chapel or crematorium. I wander in a bit late. The place is fairly full. I sit on the side and look around, at a sea of familiar faces. The service starts. Suddenly it strikes me–this is my funeral! My best friend stands to give the eulogy.
My interest captured, I pay strict attention to what she might say. Will she say what I hope she says? Will she say that I lived as though growing and contributing to the growth of others were sacred responsibilities? Will she say I cared about others?
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