The Daddy Mac: Warm it up, Kris.
The Mac Daddy: I'm about to.
The Daddy Mac: Warm it up, Kris.
The Mac Daddy: 'Cause that's what I was born to do.
I floated listlessly on the green translucent inflatable raft I had bought for four dollars at Walmart. My eyes were closed, but whenever I bumped into the sides of the pool I opened them to see the glare of the setting sun dancing through the waving fronds of palm trees, and beyond them the silhouetted peaks of El Yunque rainforest wrapped in clouds.
My legs and arms dangled in the water of the Warm Pool, the name we had given it for being slightly warmer than the shady Lazy River Pool that wound past our apartment. We preferred the Warm Pool in the late afternoons to the Lazy River Pool, the Big Pool, the Grown-up Pool, or the Other Pool, although they each had their merits.
I listened to the calming sound of water pouring into the pool from the adjacent lukewarm jacuzzi, where I could also hear Erin playing with the kids. She had had a long day, having to work until 4:00 before she could join us in the pool for a couple of hours before dinner. By that point she was happy to take over the kid-playing duties, and I was happy to relinquish them. So that I could float on the four dollar green translucent inflatable raft from Walmart in the Warm Pool.
It was as relaxing as it sounds, or at least it should have been. With my body floating at rest, my mind grew restless, and I couldn't shake the thought:
Am I wasting my life?
It's not the first time the thought has surfaced. In fact, it's been an undercurrent through this whole experience.
Part of our hope for this year of travel was to find a path to fulfillment in all dimensions of our lives - to recommit ourselves to each other as a family, to reconnect to the broader world through travel, and to redefine our sense of purpose for the rest of our lives.
But as we approach the end of our third month in a sunny tropical clime by the beach, it's feeling less like a search for fulfillment and more like an escapist fantasy. Don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining about it, but I can't help but wonder if I should have a purpose in life other than floating on a four dollar green translucent inflatable raft from Walmart.
Any new age life hacking mindfulness career coach worth their salt will tell you that you need to find your purpose in life and work towards achieving that purpose. They've all found their purpose. It's to make you feel bad about not having a purpose and sell you their book to help you find and achieve it.
Good for them and anyone they can help to find their purpose. I imagine that knowing your purpose in life can make a lot of decisions easier and grant you the ambition to take bigger risks with bigger rewards.
But purpose can be a harsh mistress. Working to succeed at a single purpose can make you feel like everything else you do is an annoying distraction, taking you off the path of achieving your purpose. Depending on how narrowly your purpose is defined, this could mean that family, fun, and relaxation could be taking you away from what you were born to do.
Someone with a purpose could never relax on a four dollar green translucent inflatable raft from Walmart, unless that was the thing they were born to do.
The rest of us wallowing in the muck of uncertainty have a bigger problem, though. Someone with a purpose at least knows when they're doing some things right. The rest of us just do things and hope that something turns out right, like a broken clock that's right twice a day.
We make ourselves busy, and make busyness our purpose. No one can fault you for not doing the right thing as long as you're doing something that needs doing.
While we've greatly reduced the busyness of our lives during this trip, we've had plenty to keep us busy. During autumn in Europe we were in a new location every two weeks, planning our daily activities and ongoing travel. Back in the states over the winter, we crammed in doctor appointments, house maintenance, and other necessary errands, then filled the rest of the time enjoying our extended family. Then there was Panama. There was never a dull moment in Panama.
When we got to Puerto Rico in March, our first apartment had all the comforts and conveniences of a typical American home, and more. It had electricity. It had running water. It had electricity that was not connected to the running water. It had hot water. It had on-demand TV. It was spacious and sunny. It had an enormous playground and splash park across the street, along with a running track and soccer field. It was a mile from the beach, and a mile from the center of town. As if all of that wasn't convenient enough, it was built on top of a convenience store.
With our daily activities right out our front door and most of the rest of our travel for the year sorted out, we finally stopped being busy. We had finally realized the original intent of Erin's crazy idea that started this whole trip - we were on a Caribbean island and no longer exhausted. We finally had time on our hands.
The first thing we did was turn on the TV. Netflix didn't work in most places in Europe, and we were paying for internet data in Panama, so for the first time in months we could get caught up on movies and shows we had missed. We browsed through all the movie selections on Netflix, then said "Who are we kidding?" and binge-watched the last season of The Walking Dead. Then we found a spinoff called Fear the Walking Dead. Then we had to think of something else to do.
"I think I'm bored," Erin proclaimed after a few days of zombie withdrawal.
She recalled a conversation she had had a year ago with our then-seven-year-old nephew, before we had conceived of this trip, while we were consumed with the busyness of our narrow life.
At one point while we were visiting them, he whined, "I'm so bored."
Erin told him, "At some point in your life, you’ll realize that you are never bored and you will wish that you could be.”
She remembered feeling so tired when she said this to him. She had wished with every bone in her body that she could be bored again.
So now, here it was. She had gotten what she'd wished for. She was bored again.
We started going on some late afternoon excursions, to a snorkeling beach, a secluded waterfall, a beach with a shipwreck and caves, a town center with a playground and skate park, a ruined church with a newer church built around it, a restaurant with a spectacular sunset view.
"Have these daily adventures cured your boredom?" I asked her.
She thought a moment. "They've helped, but I still feel restless."
"Do you feel like they're just an escape from life, rather than fulfillment of it?"
"I guess so. I feel like I need a project to work on."
"You could do more writing for the blog."
"I don't want to stare at a screen any longer than I have to."
"Unless that screen is populated with zombies."
"Naturally. I think I need to do something with my hands."
"You used to like making jewelry."
"Yeah, I liked it, but I don't know if its the thing I want to do."
"That's it," I said in realization, "The problem isn't that you're bored, it's that you don't know what you want to do. We've finally stopped being busy, but that busyness was keeping you from having the time to discover your purpose - the thing that you were born to do. All of our adventures have helped us to broaden our thinking, which may help us to find purpose, but they've kept us busy too. In a way they've been a diversion to escape both aimless busyness and a pursuit of purpose at the same time. Or maybe that's wrong. Maybe the adventure is the purpose. Maybe purpose doesn't have to be one overarching narrative that governs the continuum of our actions for all of our years on this earth. Maybe we need to be grateful for those moments of adventure, of discovery, of freedom, of beauty, of love, whenever we find them, and accept those moments as the realization of our purpose, however fleeting. Maybe our purpose just needs to be a general sense of well-being, what the ancient Greeks would have called eudaimonia, so that in all of our actions we can seek to capitalize on the opportunities presented at any given moment, yet accept them as limited experiences that, once ended, allow us to be open to new experiences. If your boredom is a manifestation of a vague restless guilt over the inability to identify your sense of purpose, could this boredom be eradicated through a mere shift of perspective to one that accepts the idiosyncrasies of your present experience at any given moment as the fulfillment of self?"
She looked up from her phone. "Sorry, I wasn't listening. Someone just commented on our Instagram photo."
"The one with the kids looking at a cat."
"Kids and a cat. That's Instagram gold."
"Yeah, and I used a filter to pop the color and fade out the edges."
"Classy. What was the comment?"
"OMG soooo cute!!!"
"Who wrote it?"
"I have no earthly idea."
"Then why do you care?"
"I don't," she said, tapping the Like button on the comment. A cascade of dings echoed from every electronic device in our apartment. "What were you asking me?"
"If your life had a purpose."
She sighed. "I don't know. Maybe I'm just having a hard time being able to relax."
"Well," I said, "our next apartment has five swimming pools and a beach, and I saw some green translucent inflatable rafts at Walmart. I think they were only four dollars."