A good end cannot sanctify evil means; nor must we ever do evil, that good may come of it... We are too ready to retaliate, rather than forgive... And yet we could hurt no man that we believe loves us. Let us try then what love will do: for if men did once see we love them, we should soon find they would not harm us. Force may subdue, but Love gains: and he that forgives first, wins the laurel.
William Penn

Be patterns, be examples in all countries, places, islands, nations wherever you come; that your carriage and life may preach among all sorts of people, and to them; then you will come to walk cheerfully over the world, answering that of God in everyone...
George Fox

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

On the Crisis of Purpose

"Why are you doing this?" is the question always asked when people discover I am walking from Portugal to Egypt. I always have my response, which comes out of my mouth without my having to think about it. I am walking for peace. More specifically, I am walking for Inner Peace, I am walking for peace wherever I go, I am walking for peace in the Middle East. I am carrying two peace petitions with me to Palestine. I am walking for an organization called Masterpeace, which encourages peace initiatives from individuals.
I was happy to answer this question after many months of soul searching in the beginning of my walk. By the time I had reached the Alps, I felt true Inner Peace. In the North of Italy, during the long days of summer, I was encouraged and supported every day by enthusiasts of my peace walk. People joined my walk for an hour or a day or several days. I was almost a guest of honor at a camp devoted to peacemaking. Fellow Quakers in the south of France supported me and are still supporting me. People gave me gifts by the side of the road. I had a host almost every night, and I was often treated as a guest of honor among them as well. My Inner Peace and the success of my journey were surely in the bag. My Purpose was sound.

But the real answer to "Why are you doing this?" is because I had no choice but to start walking. However, I knew this would never be a satisfactory answer. I searched for Purpose that would satisfy those who asked me "Why?". I came up with peace as the general answer, then I came up with some good practical reasons which I have already spoken of. To answer the question, "Why?" with, "Because God wants me to" would land me in a nut house rather than in the house of an enthusiastic host. It wasn't that I was trying to deceive anyone by my high minded Purpose of Peace in the Middle East; I believe it is possible, though I will not be the one to bring it, clearly enough. But I wanted to have an answer people could grab on to; something more concrete than a vague though intense calling.

In Slovenia, in late summer, at the height of my Inner Peace, a woman joined my walk. Inge, from Belgium, was cycling to China. We had shared a host, and we had travelled a few days together when we decided to continue on to Zagreb, Sarajevo, even Istanbul before going our separate ways. Inge was impressed by my Inner Peace and my Purpose. She, on the other hand, had no purpose other than to travel, and she made no pretense at inner peace. I supposed I might be able to set an example for her, and to help her find a noble Purpose.

Three months later, we are in Sofia, after walking 1500 kilometers in three months together. After travelling through war-scarred Croatia and Bosnia, and having fewer and fewer internet arranged hosts,  and more wilderness camping in deteriorating weather conditions; in short, after La Dulce Vita of Northern Italy, and now the hard, frozen, dark Balkans, Inge is cycling on towards Istanbul. She is doing this in part because she knows I am not a man of peace. Not even remotely.

Back when we were in Bosnia we were interviewed several times by the side of the road. "Why are you doing this?" the journalist would ask, and I would give my response. But my response was more and more becoming a canned response. Nevertheless, the journalist was always impressed by it. When the question was posed to Inge, her response was always, "I haven't got a mission like Ken has, I'm just travelling." While the journalists were impressed by the magnitude of her journey, they were never very impressed with her lack of Purpose.

Just before leaving Serbia, a month or two later, we were interviewed by a TV crew by the side of the road. When I answered The Question, however, the journalist didn't seem as impressed as the others had been. I knew why; the response was artificial because I felt no peace at all. I was by now ashamed of the peace sign on my back, I was ashamed to ask people to sign my petitions, I was no longer walking for peace, I was just walking.
Inge's response to The Question was different this time, though. For the past months she had been helping every abandoned puppy or kitten she could find by the side of the road. She helped some, saved one, and was unable to help or save others. When she was trying to help these animals, she seemed to me to be full of Inner Peace, though it was not her intended Purpose. Her answer to The Question posed by the journalist in Serbia was, "One of the reasons I am making this trip is to help abandoned animals, and to make people aware of the cruelty and the extent of the practice of abandoning animals in this part of the world." I think she also answered that she was just travelling, without the noble Purpose I had, and she mentioned the good things about Serbia; about all the hospitality we encountered, but her Purpose, to help abandoned pets, though unintended,  was genuine, and she spoke of it with passion.

Inge has never mentioned Inner Peace, or any kind of peace, as the Purpose of her journey. I believe she left Antwerp for China for the same reason I left Portugal; because she had to to live her life authentically. But she simply left, while I created Purpose. While I still believe in Peace-- I absolutely believe peace is possible in this world-- and while I am as committed as ever to trying to deliver my petitions and walking on to Cairo for this great peacemaking organization called Masterpeace, I no longer have any illusions of being or even becoming a man of peace. I am an angry man with a dark mind far too often. But I am compelled to make this walk so I will put my head down once Inge has gone on and put one foot in front of the other until I am finished or until something physically stops me.  I am only a messenger, and not a good representative of the people called Quakers; I am not the good example George Fox would have me be. I am a mailman delivering a package to the Middle East without knowing its content. Yet I am somehow content with that.

Inge has not been my only teacher on how to find Purpose if one is compelled to make a potentially life changing journey. Others have also told me that the Purpose comes of itself, or that the journey is the Purpose. But I am not so sure that the Universe conspires to help us make our wishes come true if we want them badly enough, as Paolo Coelho believes. It may be that none of my wishes come true. But I plod onward. So, my advice on finding Purpose? Don't look for it. Just make the journey.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Ken,

    thank you so much to share your thoughts with us. I really looking forward to meet you soon...

    So long...
    Happy new year and all the best for the years to come!