After 66 years of life, I’ll freely admit, some days I wake up and just go through the motions.
I think, another Tuesday, get copies for class, visit Mom and play Skip-Bo, off to writing class, then nap at home, dinner, and TV or a miscellaneous event for the evening. Boring. A few of my other heavily-scheduled days often seem repetitive, like the movie Groundhog Day.
Of course no day is the same. Each day fills itself with somewhat similar but always different interactions, with people of varied backgrounds and tastes, with fresh experiences. Meeting new people never gets old, and even the familiar ones usually have something different to say, unlike the movie.
So I ask myself: What do I want from this next day of my life that I’ve been given? Oh, sure, it would be great to have my words broadcast to the masses, changing hearts and minds with their sheer power and luminosity, as if I were a Gandhi or Martin Luther King. Yet, I remember, they suffered terribly for their very public lives.
Which brings me to a universal question: during all my adult time on this earth, I’ve wondered, What is my purpose here? To be a good person, a nice person, an ensign of right-living, those seem to be the things that carry me. So I don’t aspire to fame or fortune—instead, I’d just like to do good and bring happiness to others.
Hundreds of scriptures and self-help books brim with ways to achieve lofty goals, and they all say we must forgive ourselves for not being perfect. Striving for perfection without getting hung up on its negative side, they tell us, will make all the difference.
The Baha’i teachings have some powerful advice in that regard:
You belong to the world of purity, and are not content to live the life of the animal, spending your days in eating, drinking, and sleeping. You are indeed men! Your thoughts and ambitions are set to acquire human perfection. You live to do good and to bring happiness to others. Your greatest longing is to comfort those who mourn, to strengthen the weak, and to be the cause of hope to the despairing soul. Day and night your thoughts are turned to the Kingdom, and your hearts are full of the Love of God.
Thus you know neither opposition, dislike, nor hatred, for every living creature is dear to you and the good of each is sought.
These are perfect human sentiments and virtues. If a man has none of these, he had better cease to exist. If a lamp has ceased to give light, it had better be destroyed. If a tree bear no fruit, it had better be cut down, for it only cumbereth the ground. – Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 36.
Such a strong exhortation! If you thought you weren’t doing so well before, after reading that quote you might feel depressed. But that’s not at all what the prophets and teachers mean, nor want. Words such as the above give us a prescription for the illness that ails us all–finding our purpose and becoming a happy and joyful being under all conditions. It’s all about attitude:
I myself was in prison forty years—one year alone would have been impossible to bear—nobody survived that imprisonment more than a year! But, thank God, during all those forty years I was supremely happy! Every day, on waking, it was like hearing good tidings, and every night infinite joy was mine. Spirituality was my comfort, and turning to God was my greatest joy. If this had not been so, do you think it possible that I could have lived through those forty years in prison?
Thus, spirituality is the greatest of God’s gifts, and “Life Everlasting” means “Turning to God.” – Ibid., p. 35.
“Turning to God’ can be the most fulfilling act a human can make, for one gives up their will and moves in accord with God’s will, whatever that is. That’s not to say we give up the freedom of our will completely, since we are continually tested and faced with choices in developing our own perfect virtues. But like a radio, if the knob is turned to “off” we can’t hear the music.
So why, despite the similarities to the same day last week, is today different and potentially more fulfilling and meaningful than yesterday? Because our capacity is only limited by perfection itself. Each day brings a new opportunity to move forward and improve both our lives and the lives of those around us. Every day—and this one in particular—stands unique.
Here’s the question: Is today just another day, or is it an opportunity?