Saturday, August 28, 2010

Every Family's Got One

My brother is staying with us while the restraining order is in force. This is a first occurrence for my brother and was a ridiculous application of law enforcement. It should not reflect badly on his character, which, though flawed, is generous and fun. But it also doesn't surprise those of us who know him. It has been said of we three siblings that Chris is the smartest, and while it does call into question exactly what "smart" means, that is arguably true.

Which goes nowhere in explaining how he has (so far) ended up jobless and purposeless. Having just written that sentence, I think I might transpose "jobless" with "purposeless" and begin getting to an explanation. I don't want to be new-agey and preachy, and though I have been through the "purpose" boot camp in my personal and professional lives, I don't think Purpose is all quite as neat and tidy and tied up in a best-selling dust jacket as it was presented to me in those lives. I still can't recite my Special Purpose from memory (yes, it's written down), as I don't think I truly understand what it means, practically speaking. But I do have a visceral sense of purpose that I believe I follow most of the time.

While my brother may say this life sucks, so what's the point, I'm not sure he believes it. In my advanced age I'm still not sure what "the point" is, but I do think that whether life sucks or not is just a an individual choice. The beauty of aging is that nearly every experience, if you're really paying attention, shows you that you were wrong about something, and that after all these Being Wrongs, you are probably no worse off, and potentially better off, than you were before. And so what you eventually learn, if you're paying attention, is that having some sort of preconceived notion--a belief--doesn't do you a spit of good.

When you live in a house you pay no rent for, eat food you don't buy, watch a television all day you don't own, don't work or pay is going to suck, no matter what you believe.

Or, alternately, when you have a monthly rent you have to pay, have to go shopping and cook food, have to pay a cable bill and buy a new digital TV, work 40 hours a week that you only bring home 80% of your wages still sucks.

Or...not. The difference in the two scenarios is not the scenario, it's the choice at the end. Life is what it is. Choose life. Life is beautiful. There's just one life to live.

I talk to my brother and throw every platitude I've got at him and I realize the whole thing's just for me anyway, because there's nothing I can do to help him. And I realize that, as I let go of the sadness of such a beautiful person withering away, it is always easier to speak truth to another than to oneself. Purpose is not a profession, nor a direction, a decision, a skill, a path, a destination...Purpose is embracing life, and honesty, and engaging others and one's own mind and spirit, and exploring, and loving fearlessly.

My brother, and many others, and still me, await their purpose in the mail. Or on the infomercial. In the classifieds. Special Opportunity for the Right Person. Unlimited Revenue Potential. Set your Own Hours. Be your Own Boss.

No matter what we believe this sabbatical will "give us," what we get out of it will be what we take out of it.

Friday, August 6, 2010

My Special Purpose

I’ve begun to suspect that either our goals or our evaluation standards may be flawed. When you are looking to clear out the house and get really excited about going through two old bottles from the liquor cabinet, has your eye slipped off the prize? Why is now the time to finish off what hasn’t earned the touch of my tongue since my bachelor days? I’ve got bottles of booze in there from 15 years ago. If I didn’t drink it back then, what is going to appeal about some mystery blue liqueur now?

Maybe that’s it: we’re separating the grain from the gross. Tonight we just finished off a bottle of decent tequila and a bottle of Cointreau, both of which had just splashes left. The kids are going to their grandparents this entire coming week, though, and I wonder what wickedness may come if we start out a week without children thinking we need to thin the booze herd. This is our week to get things done, so a little focus is required.

I may just be having a little short-timers guilt. I haven’t (yet) become completely useless at work, knowing I have no responsibility to the job in 11 weeks. And I own this job anyway, so I’m actually working harder now to try to get things in shape for my replacement. But I realized the other day that I’ve been fantasizing about leisure. I will learn Spanish in a hammock. I will learn guitar by a river. I will spend hours a day cooking with my wife. I will play with my children to exhaustion.

And no matter what else the angel on my shoulder says, I will continue to have lustful thoughts of leisure. But I’ve been realizing that this trip is primarily to give our children perspective on our culture at home, and get lessons in life that they might not otherwise get at home. So we don’t want to be teaching our children that leisure is the ultimate objective of life, or that you can give up work and responsibility to get it.

I assume that I, possibly we, will get engaged in the community in more than a social way. But what is to ensure that? That is, what will we end up doing without having some explicit purpose to this adventure?

Di’s mom suspects we are doing this to scratch our own travel itch, and not for the beneficent and patronly reasons we believe. And if we do launch without first having set our minds to some expectation of what we get out of this, then she may turn out to be right.
Now, just where is that special purpose?