38 hotels, 12 airports and 75 episodes of "The Americans" later, my wife Kelly and I have completed Act I of this journey as global citizens.
I wanted to share a final thought about this first real trip outside my comfort zone. Above all else, my "one thing," as "Curly" in "City Slickers" would say, is a complete and total recalibration of how I define the way to live life with a purpose.
The Google dictionary defines Purpose: "The reason for which something is done or created or for which something exists."
Before this adventure, when I thought about living life with a purpose I used to quote a commercial, from years ago, to myself and others: “When you die, if someone wrote a biography of your life, would anyone want to read it?”
In fact, I used that description in a eulogy for my Grandmother years ago as a way to congratulate her on a life well-lived because I thought people would want to read about her life.
I used to think I understood what that saying meant: The biographies I read were about great innovators, people who had the odds against them yet overcame this adversity, battles won, lives influenced. In a sense: glory. I always thought that people who were captains of industry, great athletes and great military commanders lived with a purpose and those who (to my eyes ) lived very monotonous dull lives did not have much of a purpose or missed out on a chance to "make a difference."
I always looked to society as a barometer for what it meant to have purpose. The Nobel winning scientists, the astronauts with high schools named after them, the Pulitzer winning authors. All of these lives had “purpose” to me. I believed that these people left their mark on the world and so therefore were purposed.
But now I cannot say that anymore. It might be true. But it might be dead wrong. I no longer have any confidence (and never should have) that I can define a "purposeful life" in a way that could be used to evaluate other lives. My judgments are nonsense. I see that more each and every day.
I am still defining my own purpose and I think this journey has gotten me closer; but I still don't know.
There were moments on this journey that the meaning of purpose in life suddenly came into focus.
We were working at the elephant sanctuary and cleaning up large piles of crap (literally) when my wife took this picture of me.
We were with 4 local Thai employees of the place and another volunteer. My wife says: “The people back home are going to say ‘What the hell are you doing?’”
One of the local workers who spoke decent English, but didn’t quite understand Kelly’s joke, responded within a few seconds with as sincere a tone as can be: “You are here to care for the elephant.”
I felt like I had been whacked over the head with a hockey stick. To him, what was the joke? "Taking care of the elephant " was just as important as any other purpose, so why would anyone find it funny that I was stooping down to clean up crap?
He knew why he was there and he knew why we were there for those few days. In a word, he knew the “purpose.” Not too long ago I would have giggled to myself about that response. I mean, yes we were there to take care of the elephants, but this was just a stop along the way for us. For him, it wasn’t. He has a purpose. I don’t know how “taking care of the elephant” compares to other life purposes, but in my eyes it is no longer better or worse than the purpose of anyone else in the world.
And that, my friends, is the change I feel more than anything.
Another moment came when we were taking a long tail boat from Railey Beach in Thailand back to the shores of Apoh. There was a young boy who was working with his father to steer the craft. He sat on the front of the boat as perhaps many in his family have before him for generations.
He watched our path while taking direction from his father. He helped get us to shore. I saw the same focus, the same intensity in his face as I have seen in all the other commanders, athletes, and leaders who I used to think were the people who lived with "purpose."
I am taking some time each day to remind myself that each person defines their own purpose and I have no place or right to judge any of them.
A tall order for me, but a goal I am willing to work towards.
We are flying home in a few days to Los Angeles. I am doing my best to learn how to use Instagram @ianwinermytruth. Follow me for some fun shots of this adventure. In a couple of months we will be going to Africa to do similar kind of work.