“It is better to know some of the questions than all of the answers.” – James Thurber
Isn’t that a great quote?
As a reader and a writer, I understand the need to have questions answered.
So Many Questions, so Few Answers!
We all begin reading a book with many questions. What is this about? Who are the characters? What will happen to them? What obstacles will they face and overcome? How will this end? At the end of the book, if it’s a book worth reading, those questions are all answered to a satisfying degree. Unless the story ends on a cliffhanger to be picked up in the next book, we are unsatisfied if we don’t have answers. We want and need more. We need all the answers.
Life is a journey on which we grow, learn, discover, and become. We begin that journey with many questions. Who am I? What is my purpose? What should I do? Where should I go? Where will I end up? The questions are large, small, simple, and complex; and often, the answers we discover lead to more questions. We long for answers and tidy endings, but life is not a book!
There’s an age-old question that I believe many of us ask ourselves over and over–what is my life’s purpose? The quest to find that purpose has been taking place for as long as humans have inhabited the earth.
This past Thursday, I watched Katie play in a tennis match in which she spent each break between games doubled over, holding her stomach. Apparently she was coming down with something, and her stomach cramps were causing her great pain. Afterward, her coach asked her why she didn’t quit or tell him she wasn’t feeling well. Katie just looked up at him and replied, “I wanted to play, and I wanted to win.” And win she did, 8-1, losing only the first game, which is her usual strategy – to spend more time focusing on how her opponent plays than trying to win that first round. Katie ended up being sick all night and stayed home from school the next day but bounced back by early afternoon.
Since then, I’ve thought a lot about the next comment her coach made, “I guess it runs in the family.” I don’t know why he said that, other than the fact that he has spent the past eight years coaching one Schisler or another in both tennis and field hockey. Surely he knows that neither Rebecca or Morgan let anything stop them from reaching their goals, and he watches Katie do that every day at practice and in matches. Thinking about it made me wonder where they get it from, and that led me to ask where I get it from. The answer is simple.
Over the past thirty years, my father has battled three different types of cancer. He has had a hip replacement and hears very little of what is said to him. In less than three weeks, he will turn eighty, and I’m sure he will spend that day like every other. He will wake up early, walk at least a mile, attend Mass, run errands, and then go to work in his garage, building amazing outdoor chairs or benches or tables, birdhouses, children’s play furniture, bookcases, or closet storage units – whatever has been ordered that week. He’ll spend the evening watching TV with mom, looking forward to watching his Orioles play. Dad was probably one of those kids who got perfect attendance every year in school. He lets nothing slow him down or stop him from achieving whatever goal he has set before him, even if the goal is to simply live to see another day.
My father-in-law once told me that I’m impatient and always want everything “yesterday.” He wasn’t trying to insult me; he was just pointing out that I don’t like waiting for things to be done. And he’s right. But I don’t think it has to do with impatience (although I readily admit to that being one of my major flaws). Rather, I think it’s because an unfinished project or open task means that a goal has not been met; the next goal is put on hold. I constantly have a list running, a tally of things I need to accomplish in a day, a week, a month. My family sees lists posted all over the house that remind them of tasks to be done. If things aren’t completed within my set timeline, it throws off the whole system. It sounds neurotic and controlling, I know, but I tend to see it differently.
You see, we were all put on this earth for a reason, to fulfill something, to attain our purpose. If I were to spend my days taking naps, watching TV, playing video games, or socializing with friends, does that mean I would enjoy life more? Would I obtain greater satisfaction? A bigger sense of fulfillment? Perhaps, but I don’t think so. On the other hand, when I finish a successful week of summer camp and see the girls leaving with smiles on their faces, calling to their friends, “See you next year,” I am filled with deep, unwavering satisfaction. All of the time and effort that I put into planning the camp, throughout the entire year, pays off. It’s the same with my writing. Selling books and garnering good reviews isn’t a means to satisfying my wallet but a means to satisfying my soul. It’s the feeling of a job well done, but more importantly, it’s the feeling of bringing enjoyment to others. And sometimes, like with finishing my new home office, it’s simply the sense of satisfaction that it brings to me.
Perhaps I have it all wrong. Maybe pushing myself to stay on task, looking ahead to the next thing on the list, and constantly striving to accomplish my goals isn’t good for me. Perhaps I’ve created monsters that my children will never be able to overcome that will lead them to anxiety, fear of failure, and the inability to move forward. I certainly hope not. I hope that they will learn to harness anxiety and turn it into motivation, recognize that failure is sometimes success on an alternate path, and that moving forward sometimes means taking one baby step at a time. I also hope that we all continue working hard, crossing off our goals, and enjoying our lives until we’re at least eighty. My dad seems to have found the path to a long and happy life. All I can do is pray that I’m following in his footsteps.
Amy Schisler is an award winning author of both children’s books and novels for readers of all ages. She lives with her husband and three daughters on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. Her books, Picture Me and Whispering Vines, are recipients of Illumination Awards, placing them among the top three inspirational fiction books of 2015 and 2016. Amy’s most recent novel, Island of Miracles, is now on sale as well as Stations of the Cross Meditations for Moms, her collaboration with the authors of the blog, Y’all Need Jesus.