“Although you don’t have complete control of the story of your life, you can still create that story. Although you will never fully know or successfully manipulate all the characters who surface or disrupt your plot, you can expect the ones you can’t avoid by paying close attention and doing them justice. The plot you choose may change or even elude you, but being your own story means you can control the theme.”
Toni Morrison said that. Brilliance in three sentences, if I’ve ever heard it.
Every once in a while, I have a crisis of purpose. As in, I have no idea what my purpose is. I’m not one to occupy my valuable brain juice with questions of the existentialist or theoretical persuasions and I don’t usually cater to abstract rhetoric that can never and will never be answered. I like things I can grab and say “Hey! This is here because I feel it and I see it and therefore it must be true”. And I’m okay with that. But for things I cannot blatantly point out or throw at a person in my general vicinity, I become a little dull, a little confused, and a lot impulsive. This last bit – I find it keeps the blood flowing and the heart racing, when your body doesn’t know the next move of your mind and vice versa. This phenomenon brought me to the nearest international airport last year in the midst of exams. In line, I was two catty Colombians away from my golden ticket to Bogota. I was delirious with excitement – fried plantains would grace my taste buds and the bullets of drug cartels would be whisking by my eyes in no time.
And then you crash, you sober up, you slap yourself, and you go home. Thoroughly disappointed, I consulted a friend about my problem. I described the condition, the symptoms, and the duration. The fact that I knew I was meant to be elsewhere at that moment, doing something else and entirely different. Then her eyes widened and a Cheshire Cat grin appeared and she said: “I have exactly what you need to fix this”. Doubtful of her expertise on the matters of purpose, I quipped with, “It better be a plane ticket to someplace I’ve never heard of”. She said no it wasn’t, it was better. She then guided me to wikiHow, this specifically. It hasn’t helped.
And so the problem of purpose has made another unwelcome appearance. I kind of hoped that its presence would fly under the radar and then when I found it, I would then know the difference between a life with a realized calling and one without. But I would have found it already, making the confusing gray area that pulls you to random airport check-in lines a thing of the past. So I rented a car and I drove. I didn’t have a plan. I had my wallet and a CD of Johnny Cash on repeat. I defy anyone who says they know the words to Folsom Prison Blues better than me. And Cocaine Blues. That’s a fun one. People clearly didn’t enjoy it as much as me, because as I sang the lyrics, the cars that pulled up next to me would roll up their windows.
I was going west, I know, because I didn’t end up in the Chesapeake Bay but the sweeping plains of central Virginia. After a few hours, I found myself in Buffalo Springs. It’s barely on the map, or rather, it shouldn’t be on the map. It’s like a good ol’ fashioned all-American village with things like porches with old people in rocking chairs on them, wheelbarrows with no practical purpose but to hold flowers, and a community of garden gnomes that looked like they were plotting something. Tired, I exited the vehicle and went to the General Store – literally – to buy some Twizzlers, pop rocks, and anything else that suited my fancy. It was a day of doing whatever I wanted, nothing more and nothing less.
In the General Store, I met Buddy and his son Joshua. I walked in and greeted them. They said I looked lost. Don’t get me started, I said. Not wanting to burden them with my insignificant despair, I asked if they had pop rocks. I enjoy the occasionally baggie of pop rocks. They laughed and said they had nothing of the sort, but Buddy had fresh caramel apples. They knew what I wanted before I even knew I wanted it. I stayed there for a bit, eating my apple. They offered me a chair, and I took it. The conversation got deeper.
Buddy: “My family and I have been here for years. Buffalo Springs is all I know.”
Me, wide-eyed and kind of frantic: “But you never wanted to leave and get to know someplace different? See the world? Get lost??”
Buddy: “Why would I? What else is there? All I’ve ever needed was here. I’m going to die here.”
The stark contrast in our lives was shocking, and this shock was so timely. I will never be like Buddy and Joshua. I’m not better than them and I can’t make a caramel apple as scrumptious as Buddy can, I’m just different – I see the world in photographs and epic travel montages. There’s nothing I can do about this short of eye surgery. Which made me realize nothing and no one can really stop me from my purpose, whatever the hell it is; if they can, it wasn’t meant to be my purpose. I’ll leave the high-minded thinking there. Ugh. I’ve had enough already.
Sitting there with Buddy telling me he knows where he’ll meet death, it was a lot to take in. At that moment, it hit me that I was in rural America in a fucking General Store, and I had gotten there under a spell, a craving for adventure, for a story. And it appeased me. I drove home pop rock-less, but feeling a lot better. But where to next? I cannot wait until my feet decide.
There’s nothing wrong with a lack of bigger curiosity. With deeper thought, I’d venture to say that most people in the world don’t share my unquenchable thirst for movement. Being rooted can be comfortable, familiar. As long as free will is concerned, if routines didn’t offer at least a little bit of joy, they wouldn’t be routines. Buddy was born in Buffalo Springs and he’d die in Buffalo Springs. It’s profound and wonderfully simple at the same time, to occupy the same patch of earth for the whole of your short existence here. I don’t understand it, but I can respect it, especially when the source of this apparent deficiency provides me with caramel apples. Buddy and Joshua were cheerful people. They seemed happy, content with their wholesome lives. I wouldn’t know, though. These are impressions, friendly judgments. There’s always a bigger story.