Our Reason for Being
Discover It

There I was finishing up a couple of survey classes that I was teaching. The semester was rapidly drawing to a close. I posted my last announcement for both classes. During the semester, we had dealt with the development of the major religions of the world. In the midst of that, we were dealing with the new normal due to the coronavirus pandemic. Interestingly, the two morphed together. We addressed the confluence of history and the present.

I mentioned the importance of planning ahead. Students often blow off due dates and rules as if they aren’t important in class and/or in life. They need to follow the directions and instructions during the semester. Outside of the class, we need to obey social distancing rules and wearing masks when in public. Taking short cuts, on assignments in class or in not being careful in public, will cost us in both venues.

Another important parallel that I see between a class and dealing with COVID-19 is that one of the best ways to learn in the classroom or in life is based upon making mistakes. The Chinese revered the older people because they saw the older generation as being wise. They weren’t born wise. They became wise by making mistakes…and learning from their mistakes.

These are some of the things that I learned as I journeyed down my yellow brick road of life. Humans have of tendency to disobey the ancient Greek writers. If you look at all the Greek tragedies, the central misstep, sin, failure, etc. of humans was hubris. Hubris means false pride, which caused the downfall of all the main characters. If you want the archetypal example of hubris in the 21st century, it is that we believe that we are so important. We aren’t the reason for the cosmos.

Another of my learnings has to do with my family moving from Pennsauken, NJ to Mt. Lebanon, PA at the end of my 5th grade in elementary school. My family lived in a nice middle-class community in South Jersey where I was an above average student. My father got a promotion, which meant moving to Pittsburgh. Since he couldn’t go to college due to WWII, he wanted his children to have access to at least a college education.

He asked a realtor about which community had the best school system in the Pittsburgh area. Mt. Lebanon was the answer. It did have the best schools in the area, but it was also the 19th best school in the entire country. Also, Mt. Lebanon was the wealthiest community in Western Pennsylvania. While going to Mt. Lebanon, I learned that I was dumb and poor.

Another learning in my life had to do with dancing with death…twice. A dozen years ago, I had prostate cancer, which had metastasized outside the prostate. A couple months later, I had a traumatic brain injury as a result of falling off a ladder. I hit my head on a retaining wall causing a subdural hematoma. I wouldn’t want to experience either of those medical problems ever again.

However, both the emotional trauma of Mt. Lebanon and the medical traumas were events on my journey down my yellow brick road of my life. They became blessings. They taught me to respond to life and act. Don’t delay and put off doing something. Someday, I won’t have another day. Watch Randy Pausch’s Last Lecture. You might think you know your clock is ticking. Before I danced, I thought the same thing, but I discovered that I was wrong.

Finally, there was another great blessing that wasn’t started by a curse. It was when I met a nine-year-old girl near Inle Lake, Myanmar six years ago. She wanted to play Scrabble with me.

In that process, I discovered that I had a family halfway around the world. Discovering a part of my family pulled all the events of my life together. I’m still teaching in the States and want to broaden that to include my family in Myanmar and the children that attend school with my granddaughters. If I didn’t like to feel dumb and poor, it moved me to help other students here in America and in Myanmar.

Amid finishing up my two classes, Amazon delivered a pair of loafers that I had ordered. I opened the box. There were my new loafers. They were precisely what I had ordered. I took them out of the box; I was delighted to have a pair of loafers. I started to pick up the box and wrappings to throw them away. Then I noticed a black envelope.

I looked inside. I discovered a letter and postcard inside the envelope. The letter was nice, but the postcard was breathtaking…at least to me. This is the postcard.

What was the meaning of the picture on the postcard? Why did a pair of shoes made in China have this haunting picture? Trust me. I will find out when I write to Jason who wrote the letter. I’ll let you know when I find out.

In the meantime, this is my analysis of the picture of a wreck of an airplane with a person standing on the roof. I think that the message is that when you have crashed in life, you are to get up, act and become involved. If you just sit there and complain about how unfair the world is, you are wasting precious time. COVID-19 has already killed over 80,000 people like you and me. They estimate that it will kill a quarter million as it goes quietly into the night.

As a counterbalance of coronavirus, Dylan Thomas wrote a poem, Do Not Go Gently into That Good Night. Face life. Turn a tragedy into a positive situation. Remember the postcard and act. Merely waiting for someone to bail you out won’t work. My reason for being is up to me. I need to address why I am taking up space here on this pale blue dot that we call the Earth.

It seems to me that, as we journey down our yellow brick roads of life, we need to discover our own reason for being. One caveat to our journey. Our journey will end all too soon. When you and I are gone, what will be our legacy? Think and ponder.