Lately, I have been spending a lot of time asking “why me?”
This question has not floated around in my head due to my inability to accept responsibility or fate. It is not the result of me complaining about the circumstances that have been dealt to me, or that I have dealt myself. This question is, however, my best attempt at understanding my purpose in life.
Having developed and memorized an answer to the horrifying question every young adult, at least most of them in the United States, gets asked frequently, “what do you want to do with your life?” I long thought that I had a solid plan.
I have always left flexibility in my rehearsed response. From a young age I was taught to take opportunities, but even more importantly take initiative. My family has always been exceptionally supportive of any endeavor I have wanted to try, and thus I have always considered my self a “jack of all trades, but a king of none.” Always being the person to go headfirst into a new activity, but within a matter of time growing bored and moving on to the next “ big idea.” I have developed a skill of connecting seemingly unrelated content and phenomena and of networking people and thoughts. Over time this has led me to fully believe things happen for a reason, that people are generally good, with some exceptions, and that there is an indescribable (at least by natural means) connection between all people, places, and events that continuously grows stronger. I wholeheartedly believe people become unique individuals from a combination of their experiences, genetics, and personal choices and that they are not born into who they will be for the rest of their life.
As previously mentioned, having been taught to “be prepared” for anything the future may throw at me, I keep finding myself coming back to what is the “connection” of my experiences? How can I best serve others given my talents, desires, and personality? Why I have been so blessed to have such a supportive university, family, and friends? Why me?
These questions have led me to reflect on some of my past experiences:
I’ve been inches away from a mother dying of HIV/AIDS, laying on a straw mat in the middle of a field softly crying from the pain while her husband harvested corn and sorghum around her so he could both be with her in her final days and afford to send their three children to school in Mfwue;
I’ve walked through the Red Light districts of Amsterdam, Naples, Budapest, Stockholm, Athens, Managua, Buenos Aires, and San Jose and seen through the thin veil of happiness the women temporarily wear, into their hopeless, desperate, and devastated hearts ravished by the unfaithful desires of men;
I’ve felt the immense pressure of having to make a split-second decision while having a furious federal police officer point a loaded shotgun at our car in Mexico City while demanding a monetary bribe;
I’ve seen air pollution so thick that you could not see more than two city blocks down the road in Xian;
I’ve been feet away from a friend who was mugged at knifepoint for his camera in Granada not even knowing it was happening until it was too late;
I’ve put my hands on the rough and eroded walls of a slave castle in Elmina and whispered sincere apologies for the horrific actions of my ancestors;
I’ve carried malnourished children down dirt roads in northwestern Nicaragua to visit a doctor and then to get a hot meal to alleviate some of the pains of their swollen bellies;
I’ve marched alongside thousands of people protesting the low standards of public education in Rome, and the high levels of governmental corruption in Athens;
I’ve sweat out Malaria in a hotel room in Managua, and contracted chemical pneumonia from hazardous fumes while doing research in unsafe conditions in Ghana;
I’ve witnessed the street crime of Europe after almost being kidnapped by the Nigerian Mafia while walking the streets of one of London’s worst neighborhoods early in the morning;
I’ve grieved the lost of a great friend, at the young age of 21, who pasted away while we were traveling abroad together.
These sights and situations have shown me firsthand what despair, poverty, hunger, hopelessness, crime, death, and disease look like when they are affecting real people that I have shared meaningful conversations with, hugged and cried with, shared meals with, and people I have dreamed with about the future, and not just anonymous individuals from low-budget documentaries and the pages of books. They are real people to me! These experiences have been discouraging to say the least. I have found myself completely vulnerable and weak in many of these situations pleading with others for help I could not give myself (or others), something I had never thought I would experience. I have stayed in contact with these people, and followed the news of these places, to often find bad luck metastasizing. This often leads me to question who I am, what I am doing with my life, and what “greater cause” there is to work towards, because even with hard work and cooperation positive change does not always occur.
But I’ve also sat on the ground in the middle of a farm listening for hours to the big dreams of children as they declare their desire to be future musicians, teachers, researchers, farmers, inventors, and global change agents in rural Zambia;
I’ve celebrated Easter in Zagreb, and the unexpected win of the “Dwarfts,” the local professional soccer team, in Cape Coast;
I’ve prayed in the spectacular Haggia Sophia, while watching Christians and Muslims peacefully coexist;
I’ve made lasting eye contact with a pair of giraffes in the wilderness of central Zambia, and hand fed wild monkeys in Granada;
I’ve laughed and haggled with street vendors in the bazars of Marrakech and with black-market vendors in the hidden backrooms that fill the alleyways of Shanghai;
I’ve seen the steep and narrow steps of the highest parts of the Great Wall of China and the gloriously gagged mountains that seem to swallow everything else in site;
I’ve hitchhiked with compassionate strangers after spending almost two weeks hiking through Denver on blistered feet;
I’ve carefully inspected the ash covered ruins of Pompeii, the large stone pillars at Stonehenge, the religious artifacts in Ephesus and Corinth, the castle on top of the hill in Bellenzona, the pyramids of Teotihuacan and Tulum, and the Terracotta solders of Xian;
I’ve witnessed the passion of young Argentineans dancing the tango on a warm summer evening in La Boca;
I’ve embraced and been comforted by the pride and hospitality of the people of rural Appalachia;
I’ve been humbled by standing at the edge of the southernmost city in the world starring into the misty and quickly fading abyss;
I’ve sat on the very edge of Mt. Vesuvius in Naples and reflected on its miraculous power;
I’ve heard the roaring of a live glacier in El Calefante crackling as it moves towards open water.
And in these experiences I’ve seen Passion, Hope, Love, Compassion, Empathy, Eagerness, Synergy, Beauty, Dedication, and Cooperation; and these far out power the others! To describe the smell inside the Louve, the taste of Fufu made by local villegemen as a sign of goodwill in Ghana, the sounds of waking up to the wild birds of Costa Rica, and the feel of the bark of the “Great Sequoias” of California; are all things I have been exceptionally blessed with having experienced. I am not typing any of this to brag or boast, but to analyze and to understand.
But why me? I already draw a tremendous amount of motivation and inspiration from these and other blessings, but there has to be a deeper reason why I have been afforded these opportunities. I work hard, but there is no way I deserve them, and without the help of others I could not afford them.
I have seen people legitimately content without any material possessions besides the tattered clothes on their backs, I’ve seen hope thrive where hope should not be able to even survive, I’ve been inspired by the compassion of complete strangers, and I’ve been blessed to help create happiness for others.
The biggest change I have seen in myself since experiencing all of these things is the tremendously heavy burden my heart has taken on to do all I can to help people in as many ways as possible. I have always thought my place in life was going to be in some form of service, probably through agriculture education, but I have recently came to the realization that I can be involved in many different fields of helping people at different times in my life. This has completely changed my perception of my purpose. Currently pursing agriculture as a means of assisting communities in developing themselves has already been huge in making me into who I am, but if in the future I feel a deep urge to work with anti-sex trafficking efforts, drug abuse prevention and rehabilitation, and/or anything else, that is okay. I, nor does anyone, have to pick one thing to do for their entire lifetime unlike we are often led to believe.
I am finally completely happy with saying “I am not sure what I want to do, but whatever it is I will try my best to change the world for the better with it because I will give it my all. Right now I am focusing on agriculture education and development, but in five years it might be something completely different or exactly the same. It all just depends on opportunities and the calling of my heart.” I believe these experiences, my spectacularly supportive friends, family, are the way they are is to teach me what, how, why, when, and where I am supposed to spend my life. I don’t know the answers yet, I probably won’t until after everything is all said and done, but what is wrong with that? Why do we assume if you don’t have a concrete plan that you are set for failure? Having a strong vision with objectives goals is much more helpful in life than having a plan. Vision allows for flexibility and changes with the times and new opportunities that are available, while a plan is rigid and frequently gets complicated at the smallest change. Keeping a vision close to your heart is critical; a plan can be a good compliment, but is not always necessary to get started. The impossible can be made possible with a combination of great people, spectacular energy, and outstanding teamwork.