A packed lunch on a sunny day. A pair of binoculars around the neck of a bird enthusiast. Every day is a picnic when you eat at the park. Crispy, stuffed green pepper— tuna I should not have been allowed to season. The bright mallards agree with me in their own way. “Excuse me, sir. You’re in a city park.” I wanted to say to him. “There are no birds, except for the fat, waddling ones. The ducks can hear me, but they don’t mind. Ducks look like they haven’t minded anything for the last one-thousand years. I spy on my bird-watcher. A nearby drake keeps an eye on him too. He puts his binoculars down in a hopeless shrug. “Hey, mister, I’m a bird, quack. I’m right here in front of you, quack. Look at my brilliant green feathers. Don’t know you proper ducks don’t sit in trees, quack?” The drake talks loudly at his feet. Don’t worry, little mallard. I notice your beauty, and your great skill on balancing on one foot without falling over. You impress me. If only more of us could be as peaceful as ducks.
I call her Pari. That’s not her real name of course, but it’s the one that always gives me a sort of a chuckle when I say it because she’ll do her own turn-up-head-nose-crunch to go along with it. I like her a lot. When I get in one of my “the world is going to end” moods and stay in my reading room all day, she’ll come by and bring some fresh cut flowers. She loves open windows and unrelentingly spreads sunshine onto the piles of books and quills and runners. Whatever human decency I’ve lost these last few days will be found again before she leaves the front gate. Maybe she’ll even come around today.
How do you write a good story? —Something that matters to someone and captivates people’s hearts. What is it that separates paperbacks from legends? Who are these few special souls that uncover the New out of billions of grains of sand on forgotten beaches? How many conflicts can this world sustain? How many made up worlds, movies, plays may be written before every scene is just a rehearsing of old?
I do not know what captures our attention, be it places of fantasy or alluring characters or dramatic action we secretly wish for in our own mundane lives. There must be something more. Perhaps it is simply the fact that written stories only last 300 pages, whereas ours last a whole life and lose our attention long before the credits.
I believe there is only one true story, and a thousand different ways to tell it. Can I create way one-thousand and one? Can I imagine a new color or make a new leaf? I do not know I have such skill.
I could not make a new leaf even if you gave me more time than the end of the world.
I sit in the dust where my owners put me. This is my spot. This has always been my spot. I don’t care for the ducks hullabaloo or the chickens’ nested bedding. That fowl is right to leave an old bird like me alone. With a sparsely feathered chest and with drooping wings, I gave up the façade of dignity a long time ago. I have the right to be alone. I drink from the water-hose leaks and snag dog food for my diner. My life was a good one, living here in the cold and the heat, just to the left of the front door. But no, now all the sudden this new bimbo has come to the farm. The very sight of his rubber boots and black cap rumples my few, brown feathers. Every time he comes out of the house its, “HEY TOM! HOW’S IT GOING TOM??!! WHAT’CHA DOING THERE TOM???!” He makes me sick. Can’t you just leave a miserable turkey in peace? Laugh all you want sweaty man. I’ll tell the horses to bite you in the butt later. Morning, noon, and night—I never get a rest anymore. “HEY TOM!! HOW’S IT GOING TOM??!” Then he flaps his arms in a ostentatious jeer. Maybe you should listen to your wife. You look like an idiot.
My only friend in this harsh country is a guinea. He understands me. We sit in the dust together. But the rest of them? No, oh no. They mock my mood and honk at me if I stand in front of the car. They honk and scare me to gobble. They laugh. I can’t believe those infidels. They don’t know my struggles. They don’t know my past. What more can you expect from a foul fowl? The annoying man is trying to pet me again. Sir, I do hope you get a duckling stuck in your gullet. No one understands the trials of a turkey.
It was night, and we drove out to the lake. The pathway was almost invisible, but every so often headlights from passing cars would illuminate it. The clouds hung above with a heavy weight. Our path stretched out to the right, but we continued onward—straight on to the edge of the shore. Straight onto the water until we were in the middle of it. Standing on it. As if there was an invisible barrier, my feet stood on level ground with the water and remained dry. The lake would blow no farther. “Thus far you shall come, but no farther; And here shall your proud waves stop.”
There was no moon. Lights in the distance reflected themselves from the deepest corners, making the water depths glow. There was a hundred, thousand, million ripples across miles of water, and we stood at the edge as just two—lost in the inconsequence of ourselves. What a sight it must have been for the stars that could see below.
What do I supposed to do with my life? This question is an endless ripple throughout my present day society. What do I supposed to do with my life? I hear the ripple more times than I can count echoing off barren walls from my social news feed, my friends, my spouse, and lastly, myself. Like young sea turtles that clamor and race for the ocean, my young generation strives toward some distant goal of life satisfaction that is promised to us on the other side of college, or after finding a good job, or marriage, or catching a narwhal with our bare hands. We want to check off the “purpose” box in the same manner our homework was checked off in a high school record book. We grow up and accomplish those things that were prescribed in the “How to have a Good Life” pamphlet, and yet we still hold the empty paper in our hands- Life purpose: __________
And so we move. We leave our hometowns; we travel. We embrace the nomadic lifestyle in residence, in work, in relationships, and in hipster clothing. If stability didn’t bring us the satisfaction we were sold in gilded window displays, then who needs it? We desire something that feels heavy and of worth. We look for a sense of purpose at coffee shops.
The fact that all my peers have this longing too is a comfort only to the point of realizing we’re all on a ship with no navigator, sailing up to the frozen Arctic. Perhaps if we’re lucky, we’ll stay forever just floating in the Doldrums.
I don’t want to float, my whole life, in circles.
A scene flies back to me in color and high emotion. I was 21 years-old and living in France for a few months. It was the end of winter- still rainy, cold and depressing. I felt so alone. On this certain Saturday, I walked 30min to a women’s church meeting, the freezing mist covering my pants and shoes on the way. I had not improved my foreign language skills much since being in France, and so I mainly attended the event for the company of other English speakers. At some point in the meeting, the group of ladies broke off into small groups of 6 or so for prayer. I was the youngest woman in my group by at least 15 years. One lady stood out. She was hunched over with age and wearing all black. Gray hair pulled back from a taunt face. Grim. Angry. The only time she spoke was to yell at others in French. The rest of the women took turns sharing personal struggles and praying for each other. When it came to be my turn, I was indignant. I fumed. The struggles and personal stories were absolutely heartbreaking. The prayers offered were limp, defeated. They prayed in both French and English, but sounded as if they didn’t expect their words to even pass through the ceiling.
I forgot for a moment my lack of life experience and the years that were stacked against me. I pulled out my Bible and flipped from place to place, passionately telling the women of God’s love and affection, and how they had not been abandoned, nor forgotten by the One who created them. “Our God is a god of power. His arm is not too short to recuse you.” I was inspired to say many things that I now can’t remember. I’m sure I had raised my voice more than I meant to.
As the meeting was drawing to a close, I walked into the kitchen for another hot cup of tea. Waiting for the tea to brew, I turned to see the weathered, grim lady right in front of me. She had tears rolling down her checks. She gave me a long hug, and I was astonished. The French never give hugs. I tried desperately to remember where the “vous” goes in the sentence “Dieu vous amie,” and ended up just repeating “God loves you” in English as she cried in my arms. Then she pulled away, patted me on top of my head with a smile, and left the house.
Now, a few years later, I can feel the same non-satisfaction as most. I thought life would turn out to be a well-marked path, and I get discouraged when I don’t see one. From time to time, I ask the same life questions as my peers and hold few new answers. But when I’m pondering life purpose and meaning, I remember that lady in black-that cold winter day in France-and I’m grateful.
You step out your front door and into a dream. The world is dark, and you can’t remember why. Instead of the sun coming to meet your eyes, you only have lights reflecting on pavement. A dark cloud floats along the star ceiling. Although you mourn the change from nature’s cycle, you appreciate the thought of a sunshine evening after so many cold nights. You turn and see the clear celestial body, a watchman guard that stays until sunrise. The roads are closed. You do not have to wait to walk across them anymore. The sidewalk trees are little more than shadows. Glaring rays hit your body even before you walk into the office. Your work day starts as if nothing in the world has changed.