Have you ever considered why you were born or what your purpose is here on earth? Few people have.For most, the notion they might be here for some predetermined mission is too difficult to accept or process.There are others, however, who have considered the question and believe they are here for a reason. These unique individuals are evidence that a hypothesis of Scottish theologian William Barclay might have merit. Barclay was of the opinion that “there are two great days in a person’s life—the day we are born and the day we understand why”.
Intrigued by Barclay’s premise, I went in search of those who understood their “why”—or as the French would say, their raison d’être, or reason for being. This book is a result of that search, acollection of essays about engaging individuals who have come to understand their “why”. As a result, some feel fulfilled, happy, and content. Or, as shown in the heartrending story of Alison and Paul Frase, they understand the significance and challenge of their purpose and its often-frustrating pursuit, yet remain committed.
My search led me to the extraordinary citizens in Parts II and III, who knew their purpose in life and were living it, moments before their death. These brave individuals have earned a special place in our hearts and are honored with specific narratives.
Everyone described in this book is unique in some way. Although they may seem ordinary, their stories are warm, interesting, and inspiring.These rare souls, whatever their passion or purpose, are difference makers. They and their purposes are non-fungible. Whether intentionally or not, they have contributed to humanity. Their contributions make their stories worth hearing and therefore worth telling and retelling. Each has something about which they are passionate; something that excites and motivates them; something to which they have totally committed their lives. They are the best evidence for Professor Barclay’s truism.
You’ll notice that the professor was not ambivalent: he said, “there are two great days in a person’s life”; not “there might be”, or even, “it’s possible”. For him, understanding your “why” is just a matter of time.
For those who have not yet made the profound discovery, perhaps reading about those who have done so will serve as inspiration. But don’t expect to find a spiritual treatise addressing the search for the meaning of life––a subject that has produced much philosophical, scientific, theological, and metaphysical speculation throughout history. I am trying to stay in the real world, where everyday people of all faiths or no faith at all live their lives.
You may come to recognize your life’s purpose if what you are doing makes you feel good, if you want to spend more and more time doing it, and if what you are doing enhances the lives of others. You might even say that when you act out of kindness, compassion, and love, it aligns you with your true purpose. To this point, in a fascinating survey of centenarians—individuals one hundred years old or older—many of them stated that the reason for their longevity was a purpose beyond themselves.
The “why” discoveries included here may be about those who have profoundly benefited humanity, such as in the opening story, about Joshua Frase. Others have the potential to be beneficial to many, while other discoveries may be less munificent, bringing happiness to only a few, or even to just one person.
For some folks, understanding their “why” took the better part of a lifetime; others seem born for their role and understand early on what it is. There are some who believe their “why” was preordained, while others are not so sure.
The pursuit of your “why” may be difficult, but when one’s purpose is compelling, its attainment is more certain. Viktor Frankl, the famous psychiatrist, Holocaust survivor, and author of Man’s Search for Meaning(1946) confirmed as much: “A man who becomes conscious of the responsibility he bears toward a human being who affectionately waits for him, or to an unfinished work, will never be able to throw away his life. He knows the ‘why’ for his existence and will be able to bear almost any ‘how’.”
German philosopherFriedrich Nietzsche said it more succinctly in his book, Twilight of the Idols, “If we have our own why in life, we shall get along with almost any how”.The Frase family’s commitment is a splendid example of this axiom.
A “why” discovery is, by definition, a personal thing: it is as the individual finds it to be. Others may not accept its significance. Understanding one’s life purpose may come as an epiphany, an aha! moment or some moment of instant mental clarity—or it may require a series of similar, consequential experiences.
The discovery might have an immediately beneficial outcome or result in an unexpected financial reward. It might be self-serving, done just for the sheer joy and happiness it brings. Stories resulting from discoveries of various types are included in this collection.
Individuals who choose careers as caregivers, members of the clergy, teachers, members of the military, or first responders such as police officers, firefighters, and emergency medical technicians often do so to serve a greater cause. This group of public servants provided a treasure trove of candidates for this book.
This quotation has been attributed to several others as well, most notably Mark Twain; however, the Elmira College Center for Mark Twain Studies refutes that attribution, referring to it as “a piece of Twain apocrypha.” QuoteInvestigator.com classifies the expression as anonymous. This is my book and I’m going with Barclay as the originator, though the exact publication which it comes from remains elusive.
Robert Preidt, “Centenarians a Happy Lot, Survey Says,” MedicineNet, https://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?articlekey=169629
Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning(1946).
Friedrich Nietzsche, Twilight of the Idols (1889).
Long before I heard of William Barclay and his two great days, I believed my mission on earth was to mentor children. I introduced this thought in an autobiographical memoir titled Live a Lot Learn a Little, written in 2016.This notion did not come suddenly. Instead, it came as a gradual awareness—over more than half a century—as I realized how enjoyable coaching young people was for me and how it proved beneficial for so many families.To be honest, I can’t identify the exact day I discovered my “why.” But well after I received my first social security check, I understood my calling was to mentor children, and I continue to pursue that purpose today.