Purpose, and being remembered

Posted 11/29/23

Aging brings the question of purpose. Searching for motivation, I reflected on a person who likely never fretted over his role in life, an individual who prompts the question, how do I want to be …

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Purpose, and being remembered


Aging brings the question of purpose. Searching for motivation, I reflected on a person who likely never fretted over his role in life, an individual who prompts the question, how do I want to be remembered?

A Native American holy man once said, “The power of a pure and good soul is planted as a seed in every person’s heart and, will grow as you walk in a sacred manner.”

I remember walking sacred for an hour every Sunday, center aisle, third pew from the altar. Mother slid in first, then me. My father sat on the end. I sang the hymns, recited prayers, studied the stained-glass windows during the sermon, and placed our family’s envelope in the collection basket.

After mass, by the time my feet hit the last cement step out of the church, I was racing ahead to change clothes and hop on my Schwinn bicycle. Being holy was over. But on a Saturday afternoon my concept of walking sacred just one day a week was forever changed.

Daddy and I had set out for a trip to the aquarium on the New York waterfront. Hand-in-hand we maneuvered the bustling city sidewalks.

Nearing our destination, we saw just ahead a tattered, disheveled man lying in the middle of the walkway. The soles of his shoes were worn through. He wore no socks. Stained gray slacks matched the dirty gray jacket bunched around his shoulders. His right hand clutched a brown paper sack.

Everyone walking in front of us stepped over him. I saw one person give him a sharp kick. As we approached, my father relinquished my hand, stooped down, and pushed his arms under the snoring guy. Onlookers gaped and whispered.

Daddy stood straight up and carried the gangly heap to a nearby park bench. He placed the man gently on the green wooden slats. My father stepped back, reached for my hand, and we continued on to the aquarium in silence.

I was five and had witnessed an honorable man speaking the language of compassionate choice without uttering a single word. I learned about doing something because in your heart you knew it was the right thing to do.

Today, recalling that incident as an adult, I’m reminded of Dad and the abundance of his everyday purposeful living. Aiding a down-and-out soul was only the beginning. 

My father’s education was limited, his benevolence wasn’t.  Not much of a talker when it came to his kindness, he was a man who quietly added to his community, and if you weren’t right there in the moment, you’d be none the wiser.

Tears welled in my eyes when on a walk around the block he took the hand of my cousin’s young son, blind since the age of three, and lovingly described green trees and purple violets, orange buses and silver planes.

After he’d spent a long day at the garage, I’d peek in on him building my dollhouse. And with endless devotion Dad quietly cared for my mother through a lengthy illness.

In his last few years, my father was on call as the neighborhood chauffeur getting folks to doctor appointments, the grocery, and sometimes just a drive through the park for fresh air.

A few days before what would have been his one-hundredth birthday, Dad’s ability to make a warm and positive impact was fresh in my mind. The simplicity of his helpfulness was a humbling message.

I made a decision. I’d attempt to walk in his shoes by paying attention to my actions one step at a time.

I’ve stumbled often, but the goal remains the same, because one moment governed by the heart and not the ego will surely lead to two.

I doubt my father ever considered he was making a difference in the world, but he did. I believe that’s the true spirit of growing old with dignity and purpose.

I believe that like my father, an uncomplicated mechanic with grease under his nails, most of us are capable of aging with good intentions, finding our purpose, creating how we are remembered.

Good Spirits from this old girl.

Carole Marshall is a former columnist and feature writer for a national magazine. She’s had stories published in Chicken Soup for the Soul Books and has written two novels and one nonfiction fitness and health work. Carole is Mom, Grandma, Great-Grandma to some spectacular kiddos.