In the Christian Corpers’ Fellowship in Anambra State, there’s a tradition of asking birthday celebrants three intimate questions: How old are you now? Who will you marry? Have you found your purpose? I had no problems with the first two questions. I have an age I can be proud of (only Nigerians will understand what I mean) and the marriage question… *sigh* the answer is No. There were very spiritual people who used to give concise answers to the last question. They uttered grand statements about their place in the universe and made me wonder where I missed it in my spiritual journey. And there were mortals, like me, who had no idea how to answer the question. Some embarrassed themselves by giving contrived answers that fooled no one and others just stood before the congregation befuddled and tongue tied. In some Christian circles, the only thing that is worse than ignorance of your purpose is not being a Christian. Thank God no one knew my birthday during that period. I would have answered the second and third question with the same response: No.
I have a problem with purpose questions. I’ve never understood why anyone asks primary school (and even junior secondary school) kids what they want to become in the future. I know someone somewhere has an academic explanation for that rubbish, but I’m not interested (there is an academic reasoning behind taking alcohol and doing crack too, that doesn’t mean I’ll try them). Up to my penultimate year in secondary school, I had no proper answer for the question. I wish they’d been asking me a different question: what do you like to do?
I love books; always have, always will. But after years of telling people I did not know what I wanted to become, I decided to study engineering. Of all the things I can do, engineering is the one that comes least naturally to me. I should have just done something that requires me to analyse ambiguous texts all day. I like that. I don’t get bored by that. The day my children come back from school and tell me their teacher asked them what they want to become in future is the day I’ll start homeschooling them. Or I’ll go to their school and create a scene. I’ll rant and shout and become an embarrassment to my kids till their teacher understands that his job is to give them a desire to learn. That is all I ask of teachers.
Last year I was preoccupied with thoughts of what I want to become in life. I wanted to figure out why I got to the egg instead of the sperm that carried a passionate light skinned girl who would have developed the cure for cancer. I talked about this (not the cancer part) with a friend who was, for all intents and purposes, my shrink during that period. She was the one that reminded me that all that matters is to be sure every moment is spent doing what I should be doing. I can pray all day, asking God for why he decided to stop me from being a miscarriage. Then I get no answer. I can get annoyed at my neighbour who prays all night and all day. He must be the reason heaven’s help desk is not answering my call; always bugging the angels about his co-workers that he wants to kill and clogging the request line. But that is juvenile speak. Sometimes He keeps quiet. Sometimes it’s better that way.
Imagine if a kid knew in primary school that his purpose in life is to drive the garbage truck that services your street. Imagine. He’ll never drive that garbage truck. He’ll waste his childhood out of apathy and no one will get to drive that garbage truck on your street. Now, imagine a garbage truck driver that spent all his life living. He loved good music, read good books, made good friends, learnt how treat strangers and by some twist of fate he now drives the garbage truck. He’ll make the best garbage truck driver that ever existed. I’ll even choose to spend more time with him than some purposeful pseudo-intellectuals I meet on the internet.
There is no point living with hope that something grand will happen to us and in the process losing the opportunity to make the best of everyday. When I leave this body, I want to be able to say ntoi to the death. I want to watch death’s approach and know that I’ve done all that I can (except bungee jumping and sky diving; I’m not sure I’ll ever do those things). I don’t want to be so occupied with getting ahead that I miss loving the people I should care for now. It’s not worth it. This doesn’t mean I don’t believe there something great that I was created for. It just means I know that great thing is hidden in the little things I do. Waking, sleeping, reading, writing, sleeping and trying to squeeze out time to do the things human beings expect me to do. Then I look forward to the next day.
The world as we know it might be over the moment you’re done reading this blogpost. The sky might open to reveal Jesus descending. There won’t be deadline extensions–that is a very Nigerian thing. Sing, dance, write, draw, make someone laugh, console someone who is crying, fool around with your children, say sorry to your fiancée, make peace with your boss, forgive your pastor and tell that special person you love them. Don’t be too stuck up in your vision of the clouds that you miss the beauty around you. For a moment, forget purpose and just live.