Thinking on purpose

Every year, along with wet skies and yellow leaves, fall brings the end of frivolous sunny days and the onslaught of back to school—that sense that it’s time to get serious again. It’s a deeply ingrained impulse that I’ve just recognized as one source of my restlessness. I’m feeling an unfamiliar lack of a sense of purpose lately.

But of course it goes much deeper than that too. Having been driven for almost 50 years by the voice in my head: be financially responsible, take care of your family, accomplish something—I’m very lucky to be at that intersection of not needing to work so hard, but wanting to work at something more meaningful. (I use the word purposely, “meaning” being a very personal construct). Not that I’m alone in this—at the trailing end of the boomer generation, we’re all noisily figuring out what it means to “retire.”

And, Bruce and I are also sort of mid-transition back to “normal life”. (Whoa, too much “quotations” use here.) After a year and a half of job-quitting, suburban house-selling, and living on the road, we’re now finished with downsized in-city house hunting and are getting ready to move back to Seattle. (Way over hyphen-using too!) But meanwhile, we’re living in a beach cabin with none of our usual at-home occupations. So it feels a little limbo-like (I can’t seem to help myself).

All of which is driving me to join the local Y, spend too much time online shopping for house furnishings (it’s really fun), feel guilty about reading the news on my phone for an hour or two in the morning, and still find time to naval gaze about my purpose.

Confederate flag, Fredericksburg, VAStone Mountain Park

National Civil Rights Museum, Lorraine MotelI‘ve written before about my deep curiosity about real life in the South, which has seemed foreign to this west coast native—about the confederate flag; about the residual effects of slavery and the civil war; about present day attitudes on race. As we spent time in the South over the past year, we dug for a better understanding of many of these events and issues, but of course we were mostly scratching through the topsoil around some deep-rooted prejudices.

And while I used to think of these as Southern attitudes, the 14 months we were meandering the country saw Ferguson and Baltimore, Staten Island, Chicago, and many other cities around the country convulsed over police shootings of unarmed black young men (and a few women).

Through our explorations, and as we absorbed the news around us, I’ve become increasingly clear that social justice issues are where I am driven. I care about promoting civil rights and civil liberties, voting rights and reproductive freedom, and I’m putting a stake in the ground: these are going to be central to my sense of purpose.

Having been pretty single-minded about work, I’ve long put off getting involved in these issues beyond the occasional donation, sharing the occasional news article or tweet. What an incredible luxury it is to think about what I really care about. What an amazing privilege it will be to just do it.

2 thoughts on “Thinking on purpose

  1. Hi Pat – It’s so nice to hear from a fellow explorer. I fully expect we’ll continue to meander, but not full time. While we briefly considered just not stopping when we got back to the Northwest at the end of July, the pull of family was strong! So we’re keeping the airstream and will head out again, maybe in the spring. That said, I’d really like to follow along vicariously with others who are doing the same. Any way to follow your travels?

  2. I followed and enjoyed your traverse blog. As a retired librarian, I truly appreciated the scholarship of the historical articles and loved the bits about signage. If you are going back to normal life does this mean you will not be traveling the country-even part time? I’m bumping along on our crops country trek as I wrote this. Your journey ha been an inspiration.

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