I quit my job four years ago this past Sunday, on May 19, 2009.
Before I walked out of the Rhode Island State House for the last time, I printed and hung upon my computer screen a one-page riff that I had punched out just an hour or so beforehand. I called it The Path of Life.
It was one of those moments when you’re standing upon the doorstep of a major change in your life, and find words just pouring out of you. And, rather than explaining to my coworkers that I wouldn’t see them tomorrow morning, it was how I had also decided to say, “Goodbye.”
The path of life is perpetually shrouded in fogs of uncertainty.
Where we are led is unpredictable – the path is always changing, our direction is always in motion. Ultimately, we are not in complete control of our lives’ direction.
To some, this realization provides relief that the burden of responsibility for life’s trajectory is not wholly our own. To others, this lack of totalitarian control and the idea that there are outside, intangible forces influencing one’s own direction can seem truly terrifying.
My path has been shifting before me. That shroud, a heavy cloud of societal pressure and expectation, inner struggle and personal desperation, has but for a moment lifted, if only for a few steps. The shroud has settled a bit beyond my toes, just far enough for me to see that the dirt road is indeed beneath me, that I have been, and remain on, this path to both nowhere and somewhere.
It has taken some time for me to realize it, to understand it, and, lastly, to accept it. But I have puttered along in veiled darkness for long enough. With as little proof as the visual sight of the dirt under my feet, I now realize that I must be so brazen as to push on, to blaze my trail through the thickening fog, toward whatever end that lies beyond.
My nature is that of a trailblazer, a leader, a writer, a giver. A greater force is compelling this decision beyond my own control. To the minor extent that I can influence where I go from here, through fire and darkness, uncertainty, risk of failure and collapse, I will walk on.
The end goal is unclear, but seldom is the intent of our lives apparent to any but God.
Having since written hundreds upon hundreds of pieces, blog posts, essays and sprawling thoughts — between a thousand-more ideas that have never reached the page — I can say with certainty that I look back upon this naive page that was hung upon that work office’s computer screen and with confidence, “Yes, I got that one right.”
How little I knew then pales in comparison to what I know now. But the four years of incredible struggle — with the highest of highs and the lowest of lows meeting me every other step of the way — have, to me, proven those words to be resoundingly true.
The path of life is perpetually shrouded in fogs of uncertainty. Nothing is promised.
You and I as human beings are simply desperate to try to make sense of the very perplexing reason that we should exist at all — every day is dictated by this question, and every choice is influenced by it, and that question is what drives every ounce of fear that binds us to unhealthy relationships or our general malaise, or our sadness, or our reluctance to take action or our hesitation to pursue a beautiful dream that we envision in our mind’s eye.
It is truly an unanswerable question — a most existential, mind-warping conundrum that plagues not just academic thinkers and the most genius of philosophers throughout history, but men and women like you and me who are carrying on in our lives every day as best we can, wondering, “Why is there something, rather than nothing?”
The search for purpose and meaning in life is bound by the eternal question, “Why are we here at all?”
And because we assume that the reason for our existence must be some higher purpose — for, why should there be “something rather than nothing” if the reason for us being here isn’t profound, needed, necessary, vital, or beautiful? — we embark upon lifelong journeys to discover what purpose is the “right” one.
We, each of us, desperately searches and meanders, wonders and questions, frets and fears to choose and do and perform and create and achieve and be “what is right” — what college? what major? what career? rent or buy? condo or home? — because if we have a reason to be and we do not live our reason to be, we will have lived in vain and died in vain and the very reason for our existence will have been all for naught.
We are bound by this fog of fear: a fear that if you do have one true reason to exist and you do not fulfill it, than your life will lose its reason to exist at all.
And so millions of souls march to the grave unfulfilled by the lives they could have lead because of the singular fear of choosing wrong — because they were terrified that there was a “right” path to choose, at all.
What if the only path, the only purpose, the only “reason to be” that you could ever choose is whatever path is before you, today — wherever you are, wherever you walk, in spite of the fog that surrounds you?
My friend, that fog will never be lifted.
And though the future is always uncertain, though the reason why we should exist at all will never be answered, hell, you do not need to know what the future holds or why we are here to begin with to start walking, today. Love shall guide you through the fog, with certainty.
And so long as your feet are upon the ground can you choose to walk.
Walk without knowing where you are going, and walk all the same. Walk where your heart calls, for no one else will walk in your shoes but you. Walk, damn you. Walk so that you may believe in you as I believe in you.
Walk, for every day that you don’t for a lace has come undone, or for there is a new blister upon your toe, or for the fog just seems so dense that you can barely see your own shoes upon the dirt, that unknown and uncertain future that plagues you with fear has conquered the only chance you ever have to stand up before it: now.
I could not tell you four years ago what my future held. I had my dreams to guide me. I had a few bucks in the bank, the weary-but-undying support of my family, and a hellbent and defiant determination to make it work because I believed in it.
What I believed in was my freedom.
What I believe in is yours.
Freedom is everything, and without freedom there is a fate worse than death itself: a human soul bound by his own mind. So destitute is he in his shackles of fear and unknowning, he writhes in agony so desperate to believe, but he cannot, for he is afraid to believe in himself.
Believe, not because you will ever be proven right or wrong, not because you’ll someday stand before a gilded gate and be judged for whether or not you “believed enough” in what right or wrong dogma is spewed at you by men in robes but because, by God, you are human and thus you must believe in you.
You must believe in you.
That is your first duty.
And then you must believe in everyone else, me, all of us. That’s your next duty. That’s all we have. Belief is what guides us. Believe in you. Believe in me. Believe in human beings everywhere, each and every one of us, for if we make but one exception than we have doomed and damned our very own selves.
What we wish for ourselves we must wish for every other, lest we become the worst of hypocrites that exist: the inhuman humans who want for themselves what they find undeserving of others who are no different than they.
That’s why I believe in freedom. I believe you damn well deserve it. Because I believe I damn well deserve it, too. I’m here today to help free souls. I’m here to help free our own hearts from our fearing minds. I’m here for you to break away from the fog and set off upon that path beneath your feet. It’s there, waiting for you.
Your endgoal might be so unclear, just as mine four years ago.
I still don’t know where I’m walking.
But I know I’ll keep walking, all the same.
Flickr photo credit: Peter Dutton