living with purpose

i love this idea of living with purpose as the actual living itself. the breathing, the being, the showing up, the settling in, the doing. rather than the pressure and perfection and overdoing it until i’m out of steam, motivation, and, well, purpose.

just on new year’s eve, as we watched a slightly odd show from mt. vernon with Black singers and performers and white and other races try and show how unified we can be as a country, i said to my mom, i wish i could be superlative at something like this. she agreed. it would be singing if she could choose. i think the same, it’s something i could take with me.

when i was little, i had this notion – perhaps we all did? – of just waiting to find my passion and then be discovered to a lifetime of being rich and famous. i don’t think i understood what that meant, beyond the faint notion of being in california, perhaps, or new york city. but i do think i understood that it was a one-way ticket out of my rural, everyone-in-your-business hometown where if one was successful, others would scratch and claw her down. i wanted out of that dynamic. i wanted more. i wanted a bigger pool. and clearer, more fantastical purpose. and typically, it seemed like a talent, any talent, was the ticket to propel me out – art, piano, volleyball, basketball, flute, dance, and on and on. what didn’t i try, might be the quicker question to answer here. and what if i was “ok” at things, not excellent, not superlative, just ok? was that enough? 

it turns out that just stating i wanted out, to go far away, to try new things was enough (maybe combined with some smarts, resources, loving parents, and being white played into it too…!). and so i did.

living away from southern illinois now for 22 years, my mom sometimes laments that i’m not in touch with childhood friends or that when i’m home, i don’t reach out to them. i’m in touch with them enough in quiet ways. the ones that got out, or that understand why and how i did and don’t judge it or feel less than as a result. it’s the ones though who i run into in the grocery store here or casually see on social media who say, “wow, you live in california. that’s so awesome. you’re so lucky. you got out of this shithole.” and on and on. what is the appropriate response to this? “yep!” it makes me sad, like i can’t be authentic and talk about how i love my life, california, my job, the travels i’ve gotten to experience, because those people won’t necessarily be happy for me, i’ll be the one rubbing it in. instead, i feel as though i have to demur my accomplishments – “oh, it’s not that great. it’s not a big deal. you could do it too if you wanted!” how much of that is true. how much of it is feeling empathetic for a sad person who may or may not have figured out their purpose, how much of it is not wanting to be real or vulnerable only to open myself up for the hurts i experienced all throughout childhood. 

i guess i hold both. wanting to be out and enacting my purpose. and then holding a nostalgia for family and home and the plot of land it sits on and the cornfields and smell of wet soil in april. 

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