When I take the time to actually think about ideas that have surfaced in my mind from time to time, some amazing conclusions are frequently the result. For example, I awoke the other morning with the knowledge that I had to be ready, bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, dressed of course, and at Mesa Community College to speak to a class on Human Sexuality at 10:30. I’ve spoken there dozens of times in the last ten years and my presentation has become refined to what I consider a rather exceptional level.
The sense of being prepared led to a rather relaxed time as I dressed and put on my face that morning. Being relaxed and engaged in a somewhat rote exercise allowed my mind to wander, which isn’t all that unusual and occasionally some interesting ideas and/or memories surface. That morning my thoughts wandered back to the early ‘60s and college.
What I found myself thinking about was the misery and suffering I had freely and enthusiastically subjected myself to, in order to be a part of a group of young men with nothing more in common than their field of study, which was agriculture. In order to be accepted into the “fraternal order” I willingly scrubbed floors, toilets, swept, dusted and attended to the whims of “active” brothers who took great delight in the various forms of abuse they inflicted on the “pledges,” which led up to “hell week” when it all reached a crescendo of suffering and no sleep for six miserable days.
Then, as if that wasn’t enough voluntary subjugation, I willingly submitted myself to another round of misery and pain in order to be accepted into the Army Special Forces branch of ROTC. That was so that on each Wednesday, when all the other young men had to wear their army dress uniforms, I could sport fatigues and the famous green beret.
Although I never regretted a moment of it then, and still don’t today, I find myself wondering what the benefit was beyond those four years. Is it a part of the human experience that we continually and willingly put ourselves in similar situations just so we can feel a part of something; so we can feel as though we “belong” to something in a way that will cause us to be missed when we are no longer a part of that group? A goal of belonging does not necessarily produce a purpose for belonging. Those weren’t the only times I willingly agreed to suffer for a benefit that often was fleeting and frequently never materialized.
I have subjected myself and those around me, to untold levels of disappointment and emotional misery for various forms of financial and social gain in an effort to be a part of that fraternal group of the well-to-do who live in big houses and drive expensive luxurious cars. Those efforts make that 3 months of fraternity hazing seem like a walk in the park. At least there I had a realistic expectation of an end to the misery. The rest of life, however, was a series of unrealistic expectations. The expectations were unrealistic for one basic reason. Unlike the college experiences, I wasn’t willing to endure the necessities of accomplishment in order to achieve the end result. The question then is … why not?
Dad was right about one thing … I didn’t want it bad enough. The next question then is, again … why not? Oddly enough the ultimate answer to those questions lay in the benefits embodied in the perceived end result. Peggy Lee said it best for me, “Is that all there is, If that’s all there is my friend then let’s keep dancing … let’s break out the booze and have a ball.” This is the essence to me, of a purposeless life … my life.
Or maybe Sisyphus and his endless effort to get that huge orb to the top of a hill which had no top would be an apt description of what I felt. Whatever it was, the end result didn’t contain enough satisfaction to justify the effort. It just meant that another meaningless goal would appear, and I would feel compelled to pursue it, but the compulsion was never enough, or enduring enough, to give me a sense of purpose beyond the goal itself. In other words, I would never, ever have a sense of having arrived. I wanted a sense of having arrived even though I had no idea of what that would mean or how it would be achieved. And then one day it finally occurred to me that that if I arrived it wouldn’t be enough because having arrived would mean the journey was over … and I didn’t want the journey to be over.
I realized that the journey itself was what made life worthwhile. A journey requires a point A and a point B, a beginning and an end, and the enjoyment is not in A or B. It’s in between A and B. All the things we put ourselves through in order to get from A to B get in the way of enjoying what’s in between. As long as I didn’t have a purpose for making the trip I missed all the enjoyment of the trip and that meant the trip would be for nothing.
I don’t want the trip to be for nothing and I don’t care if I ever get to B. Do you?