Making a Difference

I was recently asked this question: “What do you see your purpose in life as being?” While I don’t recommend this as an opening question to someone you’ve just met, it seems to me that this is at least part of the reason we tend to ask people what they ‘do’ for a living. We may be curious: what gives their life meaning or value?

It is universally understood that when we make a difference in the lives of others our life becomes richer and more meaningful.

For those who are not able to ‘do’ much due to physical, emotional or spiritual obstacles, making a difference to others must be particularly difficult. Yet even here I have seen amazing things.

My friend Wayne comes to mind. Wayne was severely injured by a drunk driver (why do we worry about being attacked by a bear when these stories are all too common?). Of his limbs, he had the use of only one arm; he spoke with a lot of difficulty, had little control of his wastes, and had the most infectious laughter of virtually anyone I knew.

One of his greatest gifts to the world was telling us that the accident, horrific though it was for him and his family, saved his life. Before he was injured, he was a young man headed toward death through drugs and alcohol. After the accident, he changed: he lived a life of gratitude, attended church faithfully, and added life to that congregation with his outrageous jokes, suggestive language, winks and laughter. He was not the usual church-goer. It is clear to me that that congregation became more caring and real as a result of Wayne.

What about those who are emotionally wounded? Sure, they may become self-absorbed out of the desire to protect themselves from being ‘hurt’. Of course such people only hurt themselves by withdrawing from relationships, failing to truly share the gift of self to the world. But even there I have seen individuals unable to trust others or do good things for others. They know what it means to be in pain and so may be more sensitive to others in need than most of us “normal” folk.

Lastly, the spiritually wounded. For me what comes to mind are those who live life without hope, joy (as opposed to “happiness”) or a real sense of purpose in life. While there are plenty of people who are physically disabled, and more who are emotionally limited, I think of this last group as being greatest in number in our capitalist society. Simply being a consumer does not make for a life well-lived.

It is likely that we are all wounded to some degree. It is when an event, a special person, vital relationships, an injury or some loss that interrupts our slumber that we wake up and discover (perhaps over a period of time) what it is that gives us purpose in life.

By the way, what gives your life meaning?

Ian Gartshore loves waking up people and being enlivened with and by others.