Fortunate are those who find a purpose

My brother just retired after 35 years as sports editor of the Herald-News in Joliet. The outpouring of thanks, congratulations, and good wishes from a sports-crazy community must be immensely gratifying to him.

Of course I am very happy for him. But also a bit envious. He found his purpose and pursued it for 35 years. It was a purpose he didn’t even realize at first. He majored in accounting and changed careers in his late 20s.

The other day I watched the movie Victoria and Abdul. There’s a scene where Victoria tells Abdul that she’s 81 and has outlived everyone she cared about and doesn’t understand why she goes on living. Abdul answers that the purpose of life is service. “We are here for the good of others,” he says.

It’s ideal when your work makes a valued contribution to your community. Then you don’t have to look outside work for a purpose. Parenting also has a built-in purpose: Is any role more important than bringing up the next generation?

But how does someone who’s single and childless and doesn’t work in a job that serves society live for the good of others? The answer I come up with is finding a cause — so it’s frustrating that nearing my eighth decade, I still haven’t found a cause.

Among other things, I’ve tutored children, restocked a food pantry, helped low-income high school students apply to college, been a watcher in immigrant court. I stuck with some of these longer than others, but none sparked a passion. Eventually I couldn’t sustain the motivation for any.

Someone suggested to me that it’s grandiose to think you have to change the world. It’s more practical to focus on your own circle, she said. Who doesn’t have friends and relatives who need TLC? I hope my friends know that I care, but none of them is struggling to go on. A purpose presumes a need.

My volunteering doesn’t serve a needy population. As a Chicago Greeter, I give tours to out-of-towners who can afford to travel. Ushering at theaters is self-interested; it lets me see plays for free.

The closest I come to feeling of service is maintaining the website, which suggests upbeat literary novels for readers with depressive tendencies. The site demands so little of my time, however, that I don’t feel engaged with it. Surely a purpose, cause, or passion — call it what you will — is something you don’t put out of mind most of the time.

My discontent about not having a cause comes and goes. It’s reared up now because I’m thinking not just about my brother’s retirement but also about a friend of someone close to me. She is battling advanced cancer in her early 50s and has a poor prognosis. She has more reason to live than I do — her older son is starting college, and her younger son is in high school.

The June/July AARP magazine has a feature about people who found new purpose through various AARP programs. One woman saw a Zumba demonstration at an AARP convention and decided to become a Zumba instructor; now she’s inspiring others to exercise. Another volunteered to a tutoring program through AARP and found fulfillment in helping children. How fortunate that their passions took hold so readily.

My most recent volunteer stint ends this month, and I’m taking a break from looking for another. I’ve done things because I thought I should, and should hasn’t worked for me.



“The travel ban may not be who you are. It’s not who I am. But it is who we — as a country — are right now. . . . the travel ban and the draconian immigration crackdowns and the thinly veiled white supremacy of the Trump administration aren’t bugs, they’re features.”

Chicago Tribune columnist Rex Hippie


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  • Wow! My thoughts exactly but stated much better.

  • How nice of you too say, Diana. Thank you. Marianne

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