When we were asked in class the other day to identify if we were pursuing our higher purpose, I suddenly felt awkward and shy. I knew that no one would have to read the page, and that no matter what I wrote this was meant to be written for me, and my exploration only. However, I couldn’t help but think, I don’t even know what I want to do with my life after college, not to mention what I want to do with my life to achieve fulfillment and purpose. I tried desperately to find things that gave me a sense of bliss and peace, things that meant that I was doing something that felt right in the world. I thought of that moment of clarity when Liz Gilbert sat in her pile of snot and tears on her bathroom floor and finally realized that she was lost and she needed to find herself. I didn’t feel lost but I clearly didn’t have direction. Instead of thinking of what I was doing right for my spirituality, I found myself thinking of all the things that I worried about on a regular basis which definitely wouldn’t qualify as a greater meaning in life.
It was exactly these petty concerns that had me stressing out for days, turning me into an insufferable monster of a person that I pitied my friends and roommates for having to deal with. I was suffering from a serious case of the Mondays after wrestling with my printer, sopping wet in the incessant rain, my study abroad appointment running late, and CCSJ accidentally cancelling our motorpool car. When we finally got to mentoring and sat down to start working, I couldn’t help but notice that the boy, Justin, seemed to be having a difficult time as well. I racked my brain, trying to think to myself, What exactly does one to do cheer up a ten year old child they barely know? I was overwhelmed with the need to make sure that his day got better – it was a nagging urge to make him smile. I talked to him and Asia, his fellow scholar student, and I asked them cheerfully about their weekends and made jokes about the lesson plan. I was careful to leave happy promises of candy and play time in the gym if we finished on track, assuring them that we would try and have fun with an otherwise dull lesson. He and Asia joked with each other and I could see him returning to himself. Suddenly, in the middle of reading a section of the story, I heard that welcome raucous laughter.
Now, I don’t want to make my classmates think that I am obsessed with bodily humor, but this is another story about farting. Justin had “let one slip,” as he giggled, and Asia kept imitating the “berp!” and surprised expression that he had on his face when it happened. From then on he wasn’t shy about excusing himself to pass gas, and each time they burst into a fit of giggles. I was trying to keep them on track despite the gastro-distractions, when the director of the program came to sit in on my lesson in the middle of one such episode of gas attacks, and he looked confused as Justin leapt out of his chair and ran from the room. I was mortified, because I didn't share their fifth grade humor and thus didn't find this funny. I explained apologetically and informed the director of the issue, hoping that he wouldn’t consider this to be a punishable offense (the poor boy was already having a bad day and apparently an issue with control of his bodily functions.) To my surprise, he leaned in to whisper to me and Asia just as Justin returned to the table, “You know why right? He had beans for lunch.” Hearing a respectable authority figure, dressed in suit and all, make light of the farting made us all burst into laughter. When I responded to Justin’s defensive protests about how he couldn’t help it, I couldn't help but laugh, “Whatever, sit down and read tooty fruity”, sending everyone into another fit of giggles.
Something about this moment, the sharing of laughter and the lightening of a situation that could potentially serve as dry, dull, and frustrating brought such a lightness to my mood that it ended the spell of frustration I had been sulking in for weeks. The director smiled pleasantly at closing, Justin and Asia sat cheerfully beside me when we waited for their parents, and I laughed the whole way back with my fellow classmates. I found that this guiltless contentment I felt from that evening must be something like that feeling of purpose we were meant to explore. It hadn’t done anything to solve the stresses that I felt outside of mentoring, but because I had become so invested in the stresses of Justin, and had been able to see them lifted by something as simple as giggling about gas, it was almost as if his relief (no pun intended) was greater than my own would have been. That laughter with the kids, and that ability to help them find laughter in a strict collegiate setting was beautiful and simple and fulfilling.
In the beginning of the novel, Gilbert wrote of the struggle she faced with depression. She opens a notebook and writes to herself, “I need your help.” She then responds in her own handwriting with, “I’m right here. What can I do for you?” Though she got this wonderful opportunity to travel the world to deal with her stresses and her sorrows, she made it happen for herself. She made her own travel plans, she told her people of her idea, and she happened to get a book offer that allowed her to make it a reality. This journey ended up offering her a wealth of much needed change and self discovery, but it all came about because she followed an inkling of enlightenment. Though I don’t yet know what my greater might purpose might lead me to do or become, I have found my inkling of blissful relief in the brilliance that comes from working closely with others. It hasn’t prompted a great spiritual movement but it is a beginning, and I might have to make it come true and offer that help to myself, but now I am aware of a possible pathway.