More so than others, I believe Africans and people of colour in general, are preoccupied with notions of purpose. From classrooms and lecture halls, to places of worship and lectures from parents at home, we are constantly faced with the question of what we are doing or suggestions of what we should be doing with our lives. I believe this is because we have learned that in order to thrive in an unbalanced world, we must always go above and beyond. When you walk out the door… When you walk into any sort of situation as an African, you better have plans A through to G, and then some. Our options are seemingly limited. Or are they?
This quarter at Ezibota we are exploring the theme of contemporary African stories. I’ll be writing more on this in coming pieces, but this month, on a very surfacey level, I am considering my life’s purpose in relation to this theme. Why? Well, because I am a storyteller myself. One day, I hope to put out work that some might deem worthy of exploration and critique, much in the same way as we will be exploring the works of various African writers this quarter.
I hope my stories and poems will be read in bedrooms, classrooms, boardrooms, workshops, seminars, etc. In calling myself a storyteller even, I hope to have reached an honest place of actualisation in my discovery of purpose. That is, I truly hope my purpose is in the written word. I hope I have not missed the mark in my journey towards living a purposeful life. I hope one day, I can look back, reflect on my life, and trust that I made the most of it, that I made the greatest mark I could have possibly made in this earth-space through my writing; that I left no stone unturned in the story of my purpose. I know, quite a tall order.
The reality is, most people die still thinking about all they could have done. We go through life and different phases, trying different things, being different people, all in the search of purpose. A poet, friend, and spiritual light of mine Indigo Williams (look her up now!) was so right when she said in one of her poems, “on the journey to myself, i have been so many people”. I wonder who we have all been on our personal journeys. Where have those different aspects of ourselves led us. Who have they loved? What have their passions been? Who have they invested in? How have they reacted to tragedy? How have they responded to a stranger’s smile? And which aspect of you, if any single one, have you settled on to experience the rest of fleshly existence?
Personally, I have decided I do not want to get to the end of my life thinking back in regret on all the things I could have done. Or thinking about all the people I could have been, without having had the will to settle on that one true place of purpose within myself. I believe that in our sojourn in this earth space, we will be good at several things, perhaps really good at many things. But we will be exceptional at one thing based on where we direct our focus. And so out of all the people I have been and could become, out of all the things I could potentially do exceptionally, I have chosen to be the storyteller. I have selected that, the one thing I will have to do exceptionally well at is telling stories through my writing. I do not forego all other sources of fulfillment, but I have elected to focus all of my will into the one thing I want to look back on and be content in. This one thing will be my mark and legacy. And if I fail at it, it is the only reason for which I want to look back in regret.
And yet in deciding this, even as the thought takes form in my mind as I write, I recognise that my outlook on the rest of my life has not suddenly become so simple. For there is one other thing that nags at me. It pokes at my sense of completeness. It tells me that no matter what I pursue, without it, I cannot be truly happy, no matter how much I try to convince myself otherwise.
It is like that mosquito that is chilling in your room on a humid Accra night when there’s no electricity. You know it is there and everything else is already frustrating, but you manage to get by until it buzzes in your ear. Suddenly you lose it! That sound is like nothing else! It cancels all out and you wonder how a small thing can shake the very foundations of your peace of mind so. Suddenly, you are so bothered and discomfited; you have slapped yourself and are chasing shadows in your already hot room. Then you’re back on your bed but have got to take your third shower for the night; essentially cleanse yourself so you can sleep… i.e peace of mind.
This is how it feels when I have the sudden onset of the realisation that, in spite of having seemingly settled on what my life’s purpose should be, I am quite alone in this world so far as “love” is concerned. A part of me wishes that “loving” was my one exceptional thing. But so far I have failed at forming meaningful loving relationships under circumstances which have shattered my confidence and self esteem. I genuinely do not think I am capable or deserving of love even though I have lowkey always wanted love to be front and centre of my life’s purpose. I have desired that heavy love, in D’Angelo’s words, that “really love”.
But is the way I love too much for my world to accommodate? I am not sure, but I am tired of asking myself that question. So in choosing to live out my life as the storyteller, I am choosing to settle on that which I can almost certainly not fail at. And so it is decided; out of all the people I have been and could have chosen to be, my central purpose will be to live as the storyteller, not the lover. Not the one whose love is performed and serves as the central focus of their existence. That sort of love that soul mates share. Living for another person as though they were you because essentially they have become an extension of you… That is who I will not be.
As we explore the writings of contemporary African authors, I recognise that we are going to be discussing people that are walking, if not entirely comfortably, somewhat with certainty of what their purpose is. With or without love, I hope I find that certainty and completeness too.
Well what do you know, that was not as surfacey as I expected it to be!
I know I write a lot about myself and things that are very “internal,” but I do hope that my writing helps you focus your own thinking about these aspects of your life. Having said that, I am curious to know; on the journey to being your authentic self, who have you been? And who do you expect to be moving forward?