“Look not for the answers, but learn to love the questions themselves.” –Rainer Maria Rilke
The river knows its purpose–to move in the direction it was created for, sweeping this bend, bubbling over that rock, and soothing the souls of searching passersby. If the river could answer my question, it would tell me to move with the current.
The animals of the forest know their purpose. As they skitter from my path to the undergrowth, they forage for food and shelter, and safety from predators. If the animals of the forest could answer my question, they would tell me to survive.
My feet follow a beaten path down to the train tracks. I walk the ties to the horizon, under bridges and past construction workers and their machines. The train tracks know their purpose. To carry progress from one end of the world to the other, so the workers and machines can build and develop and advance. If the train tracks could answer my question, they would tell me to achieve.
Halfway down the tracks I get lonely and want a friend. So I call Moriah and tell her I wish she is with me, balancing along the other tie, talking about this journey. Would that she could answer my question, but she doesn’t pick up the phone.
I come to a switch in the tracks, flanked by a swamp where a cacophony of frogs calls my name. So I sit on the ties and wait. A man appears off a path on his bike and approaches, dismounting to cross the tracks.
“Hello,” I say. “How are you?”
I am going to ask him what he thinks mankind’s purpose is, but he seems to know his, and it is getting on his bike and pedaling away. So I take the rail to the right, along the manicured golf course, where the crack of clubs shatters the silence and polo-shirted men find their purpose in retirement.
I find my Father at the bridge, where the Canadian Pacific Railway posts a sign forbidding trespassing on the tracks. I sit on the rail and my Father sits beside me, and we watch the geese preening in the overflow of the creek, listening to the birds gossip in the trees. My Father, knowing how much I love the sun, asks the clouds to part and bathe us in warmth. Its rays dance silver and green on the water and the tips of the worshipping trees.
“If you asked me the answer to your question,” he says, “I would tell you.”
“Father, what is my purpose?”
“To be my daughter,” he replies, “as you’ve known all along. Your purpose does not change, though your circumstances do. Like the river, though its banks erode and widen over time, the direction of its current does not change. Like the animals, whose environment changes with season, still survive. Like the train tracks, which rust through rain and snow, still take trains from beginning to end. Like friendship, though they come with goodbyes, the impact of the hello can never be undone. Though your life changes, and the future is unknown, untraveled, your purpose does not.”
“But what does that look like?” I ask. “Being your daughter?”
“Take my heart and fit it to yours. Make it unique. Then carry my love to the hearts of those who have forgotten their purpose. Though they build and achieve, though they hurry by on their bikes or in their cars, though they gorge themselves on recreation and thrills, they can never get away from the hunger in their hearts for fulfilled purpose.”
“I have other questions,” I say.
“I know. And you will learn to love them once you’ve realized that I’ve already answered the most important one.”
My Father kisses me with the sun, and I pack up my bag, turning away from the No Trespassing sign and all my questions, and retrace my steps toward the future.