In the years after my father passed, I was directionless. I was no longer his primary care giver, so my purpose for living was something I now had to figure out. I couldn’t help but think that since the first 24 years of my life were so rocky, that life could only get better; it just had to. It couldn’t get any worse, right (never ask that question)? I had told my father I had passion, but I didn’t know how and where I wanted to channel it. I knew I wanted to keep living, I just didn’t know why. It would be some time before I had an answer to that question.
In Brooklyn, my roommate and I would discuss things like sports, politics, and literature. Every now and again, we’d talk about life, about the deeper things that always seemed to be floating just below the surface. I confessed I’d thought about walking away, about buying a house or cottage in a remote area somewhere off the grid, and retiring there. There’d be no more pain, no more people to lose. The logic in my head was simple, “When I die, that will be it, that will be the end of it. I won’t be aware of anyone else and their problems.”
It would have been a selfish and boring way to live life, and I’m not sure I was ever that serious, but I was in a dark place, and that darkness persisted for years. These thoughts would come back to me in my lower moments, and I’ll admit there was a certain appeal to spending the rest of my days in solitude. I’d live a simple life. I’d tend a garden, work out, read, meditate, go for hikes, drink coffee, that sort of thing. I’d never get married, but I’d also never hurt or get hurt by anyone either. I’d never have my heart broken again. At a moment when my judgment was admittedly skewed, it didn’t seem all that insane.
I knew I had to stick around. I knew things had to get better. I waited, I tried different things, and I failed at several odd jobs and volunteering opportunities. I still didn’t know what I wanted to do, and as I wrote about earlier, this was the period when I really felt like I was floating, although I still feel like that from time to time. I had no reason to be anywhere, no sense of belonging, and no one needed my help. Two years of school gave me a needed reprieve, and I’ll never forget the people or the experiences, but it’s almost as if school was a two year diversion. Regularly scheduled programming resumed when I walked across the stage at graduation, shook the hands of my professors, and exited on the other side.
During this search for meaning, I’ve had conversations with many different people. For seventeen months, I held a job where I drove around a big white handicap-equipped minivan and either delivered equipment to people or gave them rides to medical appointments. On an almost daily basis, I witnessed incredible strength from people who were facing the direst circumstances. I was having conversations with people who are slowly and surely dying. Some of these were surface level, but some patients wanted to know about how I came to work for the organization. Some even wanted to know about the road ahead. I was always honest with them. Sometimes this honesty resulted in tears, but I felt it was my obligation to tell the truth, especially with people going through something so horrific.
The deeper conversations weren’t limited to patients. One particular Monday, I got to ride with a coworker, and we talked about our respective experiences taking care of people with ALS. She told me about the person she’d lost, and how she was going to spread the ashes in a place that was special to that person. That’s as specific as I’ll get because I’m not trying to blow up anyone’s spot.
Another coworker and I volunteered at a pub-crawl, where each bar had it’s own task to be completed. As the pub-crawlers gargled water to make it sound like a song, my coworker and me talked about our lives for something like five hours. We talked about how we’d gotten to where we were today. It makes me feel less alone when I find out that other people’s stories are as crazy as mine.
I’m so honored that people tell me their stories, and thinking about this brought me to my grand epiphany; I’m still here because of stories like this, because in the face of extraordinary circumstances, people stand tall, they persevere, and they are willing to tell me about it. They trust that I’ll listen and hear what they’re saying. They trust that I’ll handle their stories appropriately, and that I’ll give them space to open up. I live for these stories, for the people who are willing to dig deep, to show some real emotion, to be vulnerable. Plainly stated, I keep living because others choose to keep living. I’m finally finding my people, and in these moments, I’m in my element. I cannot tell you how long I’ve waited to feel this way.
People feel comfortable around me, and I hope that that never changes. It’s not easy to answer some of the questions I’ve been posed over the years, and these questions only seem to get more complex and challenging the older I get, but I wouldn’t want my life to be any other way. It’s in these moments that I feel most like myself, like I’m right where I’m supposed to be. I’ve found my reason to keep going, and even though it took a long time to get here, and the path was painful, I couldn’t be happier. These stories keep me hopeful, and the people behind them give me the strength to keep going. Thanks for reading.