“I believe things happen for a reason. I just don’t know what it is yet.” During a dark period of my life, crying in my therapist’s office, I actually uttered those words of hope. It surprised us both. That was over 10 years ago and I am only beginning to see the connections and purpose of events that guided me to the here and now, a far better place.
I attended a seminar this week focused on “How to deliver your message”. It was really a 3 hour introduction to a 3 day workshop the presenters wanted to sell to us. They offered some useful tips on how to really define our personal meaning of life. Everyone quotes Victor Frankl when delving into the domain of meaning of life (how can you not?) If you don’t have a life purpose, a calling, and recognize it, you’re survival odds during adversity, are not so good. Frankl watched this theory be proven time and time again at Auschwitz concentration camp during WWII. He survived because he knew his purpose was to tell the world the story of Auschwitz, lest the truth never be told. Over time he learned his life had greater purpose than just that one. He has helped millions of people find their true purpose and understand the value of that.
When you know your purpose, you can help other people find theirs. During the seminar one of the exercises we did was to work with a partner, the person sitting next to us who we had never met before. We each had 3 minutes to listen to the other tell us their life purpose without questions or interruption. When they stopped talking, we could only repeat the question, “What is your purpose?” as they peeled away the layers of their profession, their livelihood, their lifestyle, their goals, to get to the heart of “What is your purpose?” It was not an easy exercise, especially for my younger partner who really hadn’t thought about his life purpose. He told me about his company and how it provided a good lifestyle for him and his family and how he came to founding it and where he wanted to take it. But none of that really addressed his true purpose. I suspect that long after the seminar, he will be pondering the question and how to best address it. Because, when you find your purpose, or calling, invariably, you realize it isn’t about you at all. It’s about how you can serve others.
I can’t remember my exact words during the 3 minutes I had to talk but I’m pretty sure I focused on my perceived calling of playing harp for hospice patients to ease their transition from this life to the next. It didn’t occur to me until after the workshop that there might be a deeper layer, when I later made a connection between the seminar and an encounter I had with a woman earlier in the day at a long term care facility. Not all the residents at facilities where I play are in hospice or need to be, and over time I get to know some of the others. That day, I had finished playing for my patients and was preparing to leave so that I could get to the seminar on time, about an hour away in rain and commuter traffic, a bad combination for a timely arrival. There was a group of people visiting in the lobby area, patients and family members, where I paused to get organized before running to my car with harp, gig bag, stool and keys. A young woman in a wheelchair in the lobby stopped me and asked if I would play something for them before I left. Although I was in a hurry to leave I agreed. I played Somewhere Over the Rainbow followed by What A Wonderful World. When I finished, the young woman who had requested I play asked, “How long have you been playing the harp and why?” I told her, “Over 20 years and it’s my calling to do this work with hospice patients. It helps them relax and sometimes be better able to face what is next.”
She thought about that quietly for a moment and then said, “You know, I wonder about what my purpose is, especially after the accident now that I’m stuck in this chair. I think my calling may be about helping people cope with bullies. I get so upset when I read or hear about people being bullied I just want to do something to help them!” There was real passion in her voice, a good indicator for recognizing your purpose. Passion is an essential ingredient.
“Sounds like a good purpose”, I commented. We chatted a while longer and then I left because the rain had stopped momentarily. I did not know then that the seminar would focus on purpose. I thought it was about helping people be better public speakers. Actually it was both of those things. However, those two events in one day got me to think more about my purpose. Victor Frankl had a primary purpose that he credits helped him stay alive in the worst possible situation any human could endure. He went on to live a life where his purpose became greater as a psychiatrist and author who helped far more people than he could have imagined by sharing his story.
Another musician’s story that I find truly inspiring is that of George Flores, a quadriplegic former rock and roll performer who became a harp builder of some fame. If you aren’t familiar with George’s story, the following is a brief video about him. https://www.facebook.com/GeorgeHarps/videos/1195973339065/
Story telling is a powerful transformative tool of the universe with a wide ripple effect. So is the harp.