Pass the salt
A few years ago, I was out to lunch with a group of people and we were all in individual conversations and one statement broke through the noise as I heard a guy say “I was in a coma once, it was the scariest thing that ever happened!” My ears perked up as this statement, for me, seemingly drove a butter knife into the conversation at my end of the table.
Larry (let's call this guy “Larry” for the sake of anonymity) is in his late 40s, maybe his early 50s and seems very straight-laced and always a little bit on edge. Sort of skittish. Some people call it high-strung, but it always looks like constant fear to me. He never really talks about himself or his past. Where I have always been an open book (now with added honesty), I certainly understand the need to keep certain information to one's self. In Larry's case though, there doesn't seem to be any larger narrative about him, very much a wallflower from my point-of-view. He mostly talks about work, caring for aging parents, and caring for his dog. On the outside, he seems to be living a very simple life with no flavor added, so when the subject of going into a coma came up, I couldn't help but to inquire more about the details of his experience. Did this shape Larry's now simple life? Did this turn Larry into the scared person he is today? Do tell! Do tell!!!
It doesn't hurt to ask
I was certainly interested and I only know Larry's persona, knowing nothing about “Larry” on a personal level. I wanted to get to know him a little bit better, but after his statement, I was seriously curious about what it was like to wake up from a near-death experience. I all but jumped over the table and grabbed a megaphone when I asked him “You were in a coma? How did that happen?” At that point, the table got quiet as we listened to Larry describe his experience of passing out (not alcohol or drug related) at the wheel driving down the coast and waking up in the hospital two weeks later. At the end of telling his story, Larry said that the experience gave him cause to look at his life with “new purpose” and “new meaning”.
You had me at purpose
I have never had a sense of “purpose”. Never felt like I had a higher purpose to any degree at all. Over the last few years though, I have become somewhat of a seeker. I pay attention more often when these types stories appear in my life these days and instead of blowing them off, I started to approach them with much more curiosity. As I look for my own purpose and meaning, I can't help but pay attention to someone who declares to “look at life with new purpose and meaning” immediately after ordering a $9.99 lunch special with a large Coke. So, I waited for the group to thin out before I asked Larry the question I had been dying to ask... “So, what's your new purpose? What's the meaning?”
Fuck you, Larry
When I asked Larry at the end of lunch what his “new purpose and meaning” was, he responded with “I don't know yet! I am still looking!” You would think that a near-death experience would help to urge your deeper thinking of life, purpose, and meaning, but in Larry's case... It resulted in a constant question. Fuck, Larry! This shit happened when you were 28 years old Larry! How the fuck do you go this long and not have an answer by now! Then I had to rethink it... Larry didn't say he “FOUND new purpose and meaning”, what he said was that he “now LOOKED at his life with new purpose and meaning.” And it kinda made sense.
I went home that day and shared this story with a friend who had the same reaction I did at first. “Fuck you, Larry! What a letdown! Larry!... fucking Larry!”, but after talking about it, my friend and I concluded that I probably passed up an optimal opportunity to help Larry finally know his “new purpose”. I should have asked him to “Pass the salt?”
Because sometimes, our “purpose” just might be a lot less grandiose and extravagant as we would like it to be. And the “meaning” just might be whatever we want or need it to be. And sometimes, having the question just might be better than having the answer.
Or maybe you pass the butter instead?