It’s the thing that carries you through the tough times. It’s what makes you push yourself, even when you feel like you can’t move another inch. It the means and the end all at once. It holds us together against the forces that wish to tear us apart. It is, truly, what we live for.
You probably think I’m going to say “love”, or “peace”, or something like that. But in fact what I want to talk about tonight is purpose.
This morning, Richard and Kate had something they needed to do. So my aunt Laura picked me up from my Tai Chi class at 10am and drove me home. After she brought me home she stayed for an hour or so. We had a cup of tea and talked. It was a joy, as always, to spend time with her.
We spoke of many things. We discussed travelling, we discussed fitness. We talked of faith and growth, of gratitude and compassion. But what stuck with me all day was the idea of purpose. You see, my aunt Laura turned seventy years old just a couple weeks ago. However, she is by no means “old”. She is as active as I am, in fact, I would say she is actually more active than I am. She has a personal trainer and exercises regularly. She is involved in her church, and is part of the leadership in an organization called Good Samaritan Ministries, which supports education of children all over Africa. If I remember right from our conversation today, she has been to Africa herself nine times and to the Middle East three times. She has been all over the world. Now, when many people at her age do nothing but sit in their recliners watching Television, she is continuing to take piano lessons, and to write her own music.
She has lived alone for 14 years since her husband (and my uncle) Gary died of lymphoma. And although Laura is almost always upbeat, she admitted to me today that it has sometimes been tough to be alone. Fortunately our whole extended family lives near, as does her son. But still, she expressed to me, at times, it is no cakewalk.
Here’s where we come to the crux of the conversation, as I see it. Laura went on to tell me that what keeps her going, what makes her life worthwhile, and what gives her the power to keep moving and keep challenging herself….what gives her wellness, is purpose.
She has a purpose. She is striving in her ministry to help provide education to children in devastatingly poor parts of Africa – children who otherwise might end up on the street, in crime, or prostitution.
I know that there are other purposes that are important to her. But to me, it has always seemed that Laura has been called to reach out to the children. She was an elementary school teacher until she “retired”. I put quotes around that word because she did not truly retire, she just went from teaching children in America directly to teaching children in Africa indirectly.
Although many other people are involved in Good Samaritan Ministries, it has been her drive, her vision, her passion and persistence that has made it possible for GSM to reach out to thousands of children in a dozen or so countries across Africa. And that purpose gives my 70 year old aunt the health, energy and vitality of someone half her age.
Now, although my conversation with Laura certainly sparked these thoughts in my mind, it was the film that I just finished watching with Richard and Kate that set that spark to tinder.
We watched the movie Salmon Fishing in the Yemen. Now although I would love to give you a summary of the entire plot, I am not going to do so. I’ve included a link above, and if you choose you may read a summary there. But I don’t want this post to turn into a movie review, and that’s what often happens when I try to summarize a film that I like. Plus, I hope that you will watch it for yourselves, in which case my summary could end up spoiling it.
I will give you a one sentence summary: “A Yemeni sheik spends millions to attempt to bring the sport of salmon fishing to the middle-eastern desert, assisted by his lovely British consultant and a skeptical Scottish fisheries expert.”
Not bad for a single sentence right? Now that sentence might tell you a bit about the plot, but not about the true meaning of the film. Yeah, it may be about a sheik and the desert and overcoming obstacles. But I saw it as a story of life. It is also a story of love. A story of faith and fish. But most of all, it is a story of purpose, and how shared purpose can bring together people of all kinds to achieve what seems impossible.
There is a point when, despite all the characters hard work, the project looks as if it might fail. Fish have died, blossoming love looks to be crushed before it can bloom, and the dreams of an oasis in the desert seems all but lost.
The fisheries expert (played by Ewan McGregor) is standing looking over the water and mumbling. He says that without fish, and without the sheik’s consultant (Emily Blunt), what would be the point of persevering with the project? At that moment, a fish jumps from the water. And while it might have merely been a salmon, it was also a potent symbol.
That fish meant all was not lost. The fish was a sign from the universe, from God, from the source. The fish was there to remind the characters that despite the challenges, they had a shared purpose and they would find a way to make it happen.
The fish was love, conquering hate. It was life, amid desolation. It was the beauty despite disaster. It was truth triumphing over falsehood. Most of all, it was the bond the held together these men and women in an endeavor that seemed an impossible dream. Through that shared purpose, faith, and a little bit of luck, they turned that dream into reality.
Sounds like a pretty good movie huh?
I certainly thought so.
And it was amazing how well the themes of the film fit together with the ideas that were already swirling around in my head, waiting to be written.
I always appreciate it when life hands me that sort of serendipity.
Now, to bring things full circle. I began this post talking about my aunt Laura, and the way her purpose keeps her young, healthy, and vital. Then I described my experience with the film Salmon Fishing in the Yemen. Those both lead me to the ultimate conclusion, that purpose and meaning are two of the most critical human needs.
Through some of the therapy I have been in over the past 5 years, I’ve learned a lot about the diverse needs each of us men and women have. Not just food, shelter, and those sort of material needs, but more intangible ones like love, understanding, and freedom.
On the list of those needs is purpose. As human beings, we NEED to have a purpose. I’m sure you have heard someone say this before: “I need to be needed”. While some people might not think that applies to them, the truth is that we all need to have a purpose. We need someone, or something, somewhere in this universe to need us around. Our purpose need not be something grand. It could be something simple, like “loving one’s family”, or “raising children”. It could be something like “sharing spirituality with others” or “learning to communicate with nature”.
Our purposes are as infinitely variable as we ourselves are. And I am convinced that each and every one of us has a purpose, even if we do not know what it is yet.
This blog is called The Wellness Quest. My last few posts have been almost devoid of overt references to the idea of wellness. I trust that you were able to link them together with this idea without my help. But tonight, I am going to make it clear. I believe that finding my purpose is a crucial part of my search for optimum wellness. Just like much of my aunt Laura’s personal wellness depends on her own purpose. Just like the characters in the movie depend on their purpose to bring them together and sustain them as they overcome numerous obstacles….I know that my ultimate success depends on me finding my purpose in life and doing my best to work toward it.
This might sound like a tough thing to do. But I believe that for me, right now, my purpose is pretty simple. Right now, my purpose is to keep getting healthier, to keep working toward wellness, and to keep exploring myself and this universe so that one day in the near future I will discover what it is I am meant to do with this life I have been given.
I hope and pray the same for you as well.
Peace to you,
- Ewan McGregor Talks Salmon Fishing in the Yemen, “Lovely” Emily Blunt, and “Unsexy” Accents (popsugar.com)
- Ewan and Emily Bring Salmon Fishing in Yemen to LA (popsugar.com)
- Movie Review: Salmon Fishing in the Yemen [M] (flickchick1909.wordpress.com)
- Salmon Fishing In The Yemen (growingyoungereachday.wordpress.com)