You often hear people talk about life needing a purpose, that direction is important and, that without purpose, life is meaningless. Books are written around this idea and people buy them by the thousands. Professional motivational speakers make good livings from trying to sell the idea that life requires intention, that there is some thing, some magical thing, out there that we all must seek and then strive to live up to. People spend years questioning the value of their lives because they question if they are living up to expectation, expectation that is often manufactured and placed upon them by the pressure they feel to excel in their quest to find meaning.
There was a time in my own life when I engaged in the chase, a mad desire to make sense of it all, to find a way to leave my mark on this world and to aspire to be more. There was a level of determination behind my impulse to seek some great truth in life that bordered on obsession. I was restless, anxious and always on the look out for signs that I was doing the right thing to reach a higher design. It was utterly exhausting and, knowing what I know now, a fruitless waste of energy.
My quest started to come to an end back in 2011, around the same time I started the long journey into the world of chronic health problems. Before I was formally diagnosed with sarcoidosis, there were lots of other theories about what was wrong, each one scarier than the last…lupus, MS and even cancer. There were lots of doctor visits and hundreds upon hundreds of dollars in co-pays for various tests, scans, labs and procedures. It was during this time, suddenly thrust into the world of the unwell, a medical mystery no less, that I started to take a different kind of stock in all this business about life’s purpose and meaning.
Over the years that I have become “alternatively well”, have struggled with shortness of breath, body aches, unexplained fevers that come on without notice, nerve damage, bone pain, massive brain fog and fatigue, I have also come to understand a very simple truth. Life has no one set purpose for me. Concepts like purpose and meaning have taken on an entirely new significance for me. I am simply trying to stay alive now. Having sarcoidosis has distilled and purified the essence of life for me. Every day adds up to one thing for me, a gift. I no longer have a need or even a want to chase some great goal and, I find living my life purged of the anxiety to live up to some made up expectation that I am supposed to figure out my “gift” and share it with the world, actually makes life far more meaningful now than it was when I thought I had to figure it all out and achieve something profound.
Having sarcoidosis and living inside a body that doesn’t work properly, has taught me that life’s purpose is not reason or passion or dreams or longings. Life’s purpose is survival in the here and now. I have come to appreciate that health, security and time are not promised, even when you try to do all the “right” things. Now, I live each day, not like it was my last, I honestly don’t have the energy for that, but I live each day with a quiet gratitude, that I am here…that I get to experience another sunrise, a walk with my dog and a hug from my husband.
Life is not about purpose. Life is about gratitude, simple gratitude for the things that are actually taken for granted by those chasing a fabricated higher calling, a deeper meaning, a drive for excellence. Sarcoidosis has taught me that my previous quest for betterment was a wasted effort, that what I thought I should be doing wasn’t really important at all. I was good at my career but I rarely watched a sunset. I hugged my husband but I took it for granted that he’d always be there to hug. Once you face the perils of poor health, you also come to understand time differently. There are only a limited number of sunsets to watch and hugs to be given or had. Live with gratitude and you live with purpose. It’s as simple as that.