It does not matter who you are, if you are a person, you yearn for purpose. How do we sustain that sense of purpose? We must figure out who we are. I will use a hammer as an example. If it is not identified as such, and utilized, it may exist, but in name only. Sometimes, it is difficult to identify who we are. We often refer to how we look, where we work, and how much monetary wealth we have acquired. We keep these superficial aspects of ourselves in mind to make it easier to ignore the deeper ones.
Understandably, ragged clothes, and eating out of the trash can be a formidable obstacle when it comes to shining a positive light on how a person perceives themselves. This story is about a man whose light had completely been extinguished. Instead, the smoldering coals of self-doubt resonated in his heart. The fire was first doused when both of Joshua’s parents passed away from an overdose on methamphetamines.
From the age of thirteen until adulthood Joshua bounced from foster home to foster home. The newest clothes he had ever owned were from his cousin just before he left. Other than that, what he wore was practically rags. He was always put down because of the way he dressed, the way his parents passed, and most of all, due to his social skills. He was a social pariah. When everyone would laugh, Joshua would bite his cheeks because the vulnerability of expressing emotion was too much to bear. Without those, he was vulnerable and naïve to any judgement passed.
At eighteen Joshua was released from the foster care system. He became homeless. He tried to gain employment for a year or so but an employer would not hire someone who smelled and looked like he did, so he gave up. His awkward personality did not help. When everyone would laugh Joshua would bite his cheeks because the vulnerability of expressing emotion was too much to bear. When people cried he sat there in silence in fear of not saying the right thing.
Joshua tried living at a shelter but even they seemed to shun him. So, instead of being alone amongst a group of people, he decided to be alone-alone. He let his heart resonate in solitary silence. The quietest place he could think of during day or night was the public library. The only problem with going in during the day, were the people. So, Joshua learned how to jimmy the back door open so he could go in and sleep at night.
Joshua was able to do this for ten years without anyone being the wiser. He always locked the door on his way in and locked it on his way out before the staff arrived. Every night he’d pick up a book and read to keep himself occupied. He was perfectly content living this lifestyle. All the social interaction he needed was spoken among the characters in the books he read. Comedy, romance, action, sci-fi, and technical books as well. Thanks to his endless curiosities he knew architecture, history, sociology and so many other topics.
No matter how much he read, there was always something missing. Joshua could never figure it out until he was walking down the street one day and noticed a couple walking toward him. Generally, he would glance then look away but this time, just for a moment he stared. The way they held their hands, intertwined, Joshua could not imagine them even being capable of letting go of each other. Joshua had an epiphany. A story, much like the memory of his sweet mother running her fingers through his hair as a child, could not be touched. He finally realized how alone he was.
Joshua generally read every day but for the next week, he could not bring himself to pick up a book. Sleep did not come easy either. His sleep was so disrupted, one morning he did not wake up early enough to leave the library before the staff came in.
Joshua was rushing out of the door when he saw an older gentleman standing in the doorway. He was dressed in business casual with neatly combed, dark gray hair. Joshua tightly closed his eyes. He could not think of an excuse as to why he was in there. It was for certain he would lose his safe haven. Joshua’s mind raced with what other consequences he would have to endure.
The man peered above his glasses to look at Joshua. “You’re reading all the wrong books.”
Joshua’s eyes opened wide. “What?”
“I’ve been working here for the past five years. We have video cameras in here. You’ve read about 250 books by my count.” Then man directed Joshua to go back inside, then he took the lead to some bookcases. “I advise you to read these.” He focused through his glasses intently looking at the books on the shelf, murmuring to himself the entirety of his search. After about thirty seconds of searching, he pulled out a book, “The No Self Help Book,” by Kate Gustin. The librarian looked at Joshua, “You’re odd. There is no denying that, but you obviously have the ability to retain what you read or else you wouldn’t keep reading. Read this. It’s a short read but take your time and absorb it. I really think you’ll see some changes.”
Joshua took the book and looked at the man, fighting the tears welling up in his eyes. “Thank you sir. I’m so-”
“-No problem. You don’t have to call me sir, just call me Mel. Now don’t let me catch you in here again. You understand?”
“You won’t catch me in here again Mel.” Joshua couldn’t help but grin no matter how much he fought it.
Joshua did as the librarian advised, and he read the book for the next week, paying attention to every detail. He felt lighter, happier and full of hope. He kept his word and didn’t get caught. He read self help book after self help book taking every bit of advice to heart.
One day, the librarian noticed that Joshua stopped coming in. Joshua’s absence continued for a week, a month, a year and then two until the librarian was sitting behind his desk and unbeknownst to him got a visitor. It was Joshua. He was no longer wearing rags. His hair was cut, combed and he was completely cleaned shaven.
“Well, hi Joshua.” Mel stood up and extended his hand for a handshake.
“Hi Mel.” Joshua shook his hand firmly. “I just wanted to come back and say thank you. I honestly had no idea of my potential until you stopped me and gave me that book. I always spent so much time scared, all I had to do was try.”
“Just try. I’ll never know what’s in store for me, but I know I’ll never find out unless I try. Even if I fail, I can try again. I owe that to myself. Now I have my own business mowing lawns. I started out with an old beat-up push mower and drug it from lawn to lawn. Then, I saved up enough money for more equipment. I have so many customers now that I’m going to have to start another crew.”
“Well, that’s good.”
“That’s not the only reason I’m here today though.” Joshua’s expression went flat.
“Oh?” Mel tilted his head in silent acquisition.
“After I read those books, it took two years, but I tried something that terrified me… I asked a girl out and got a date. Our relationship has grown for the past eight months, and I asked her to marry me yesterday… she said yes.” Joshua grinned without hesitation and continued, “I was wondering if you’d be my best man.”
Mel smiled wide, “It would be a privilege, Joshua.”
After almost thirty-eight long years, Joshua figured out his purpose. His purpose was not to be a king, a president, or someone who will go down in history as a legend. His purpose was just like anyone else’s should be, it was to try. Because just like the hammer, if we remain still and never take that swing, we will never know our true potential.