You can be anything you want; but not really. At some point you’ve been asked, “what do you wanna be when you grow up?” As a child I never really understood that question, I mean, come on, I'm barely learning my colors, how can you put me on the spot like that? Even now after fully learning my colors, I don't know what I wanna be. I have preferences and dislikes, things I’m good at and things I'm not so good at; it is a surprisingly long list. In high school, you have all of this pressure constantly having to think about “What am I gonna do? What college am I going to? What career am I going to pursue? How am I gonna afford it? Should I have a summer job?” Take a chill pill with the questions, I barely know what I'm gonna eat tomorrow, much less what I'm going to do for the rest of my life.
My freshmen year is closing today, and now I have all this free time to burn; what should I do? I look around and see an advertisement for the museum about a new exhibit.
Soon I arrive at the museum, and I'm just wandering around when I spot the new exhibit. It appears to be about some of the most known religions: Christianity, Buddhism, and Judaism. I was never big on religion. I believed in God, but that was as far as I went. Maybe some of these religions could help me. I follow the most recent tour schedule, the people around me are mostly seniors or people in their mid-30s. I guess this exhibit is a big thing nowadays with the adults. The first religion we learned about is Christianity. We learned that Christianity is the biggest religion on the planet, which didn't surprise me. I looked around at the artifacts and tried to listen to the tour guide, but none of them were really much help. They basically just spewed facts I could have easily gotten from Wikipedia. I felt a tug on my sleeve, and heard the tiniest voice whisper to me,
“Excuse me, my dear youth, but could you hand me my bag? I’m afraid I can't quite reach” I look to see a fragile old lady, 80-90s years old. I quickly nod my head, noticing I was taking a bit too long.
“ ‘My dear youth’. Huh, is that what all the hip seniors are saying these days? I should really get with the times...” I say to avoid any more awkwardness.
She gives a chuckle and looks at me more closely. “You seem troubled, my dear.”
I look down; am I that obvious?
“To be honest, I was hoping I could find some answers. I’m being hounded by my thoughts and teachers nagging me to figure out my life.”
She looked surprised, then smiled softly. Her small, thin arm wrapped around my arm; for the support I suppose.
“All these facts won't help you, people today have the wrong idea about what Christianity really is. As long as you have faith that God is with you, then you have nothing to worry about.”
I looked at her suspiciously. She sounded like one of those guys that come up to you asking if you have time to talk about Jesus. “I think that sounds a tad rehearsed, but if you don't mind me asking if that's what God wants, what happens to the sinners?”
She replied with the utmost confidence, saying “Such sinners were more righteous in the eyes of God and more deserving of God’s forgiveness.”
Such a wise woman, but I began to think; is the forgiveness only for the worst of sinners? Sensing the question as if reading my mind, the woman said
“Don’t misunderstand, my dear. If you ever read the Bible, Jesus preached that the kingdom of God is loving equally towards everyone,”
I stayed quiet for the rest of the time, processing the words I'd just been told. So basically, God is a support pillar who's always cheering you on and is always forgiving you for whatever. Everybody makes God into this dangerous, righteous dude, kind of like the lion Aslan from Narnia. Everybody says that Aslan is this scary lion who has magical powers, but he is also kind and selfless, giving everyone courage when they need it, and is everywhere around you. That’s a nice way of thinking about God. Kudos to C.S Lewis for making a good story that explains a lot. I looked back down to say something to the woman, but she wasn’t there. I made a full circle but had no luck of seeing her.
The group was then entering the Buddha exhibit. It had all these cool sculptures made out of different metals. I stared at them in admiration a bit too long; next thing I knew, my group was gone! Just my luck. “Well, it's not that bad. I can take my time to look at things” I thought to myself. As I was looking around, I saw mannequins of monks, showing off the robes they wore. I didn't know much about Buddhism, it had never been fully explained to me- “what was that?” I looked around, I had thought I heard a noise. “Am I being paranoid?”
“I sensed your distress, child. It's okay to be lost”
Startled, I jumped. I turned around to see a monk standing right before me. He was taller than me by at least a head, he had half moon glasses and wrinkles around his mouth (a sign he’s laughed a lot). He had some wrinkles around his eyes too, making him look like he had much wisdom to spare; kind of like Yoda, but a human with tan skin. I was curious as to how he had gotten there without me noticing him- why was a monk here?
After calming my nerves a bit, I asked: “What do you mean by ‘sense’?” Without answering me, he began to walk away as if saying “follow me”! I had to run up to him to catch up.
“In Buddhism, we have a practice called tonglen, which helps train the mind to strengthen the natural power of compassion” I look at him in confusion. He was making it sound like some sort of spidey sense.
“So what’s a monk like you doing here? Are you holding a lecture or something?” I asked. It's not every day you see a monk.
“Something of the sort. You have an awful lot of negative emotions surrounding you, tell me what's on your mind.” I sighed and looked at my feet.
“To be honest, I don’t know, I’m just figuring out my life. Trying to get it together. In your opinion, why do we, as humans, live?” He looked down at me and chuckled.
“What a bold question. We Buddhist believe that as long as you are happy with yourself, have inner discipline, and develop a good heart, that's all you need.” That's what everyone wants to do, just be happy, but there is other stress.
“By bringing about a certain inner discipline, we can undergo a transformation of our attitude, our entire outlook, and approach to living.” I nod along as there isn't much for me to say, but I think to myself that the tricky part is keeping that mentality.
“Being human is difficult” I sighed, running my hand through my hair.
He laughed and responded with “Would you rather be something else?”
I scoffed. “I guess not.”
“We talk about how much potential lies within our body, how meaningful it can be. The good purposes it can be used for, the benefits and advantages of having a human body and so on” I nodded. I shouldn't waste what I have I guess; my self-esteem went up a couple points. Sweet.
We talked for so long that I didn’t notice we had reached the end of the hallway. He bowed goodbye as did I in return, not wanting to be disrespectful. I continued to walk on.
Lastly, I entered the exhibit of Judaism and finally found my group. Just as with the previous religions, I didn't know much about the Jewish community- more like I could never find the time. I did once read a book called A Man Searching for Meaning, the author was Jewish. However, he didn't really say much about his religion, but he did speak a little bit of his philosophy.
I remembered that he wrote something along the lines of “Life means taking responsibility to find the answers to problems” which is the harsh truth, but I found it encouraging; like I should explore around me if it means finding out all the answers I need. I looked at the artifacts. They weren't things I hadn’t seen before, but soon it was getting into the biggest impacts for Jewish people. I didn't know about these guys, but I didn't wanna be depressed.
I walked out, and soon I entered the lecture hall. I walked into one of the lecture rooms to kill time. A professor looking dude was talking. I turned to sit, and as I did I saw a pamphlet that read ‘EXISTENTIALISM’ in big bold letters, filled in with black ink, across the whole page.
“Human existence is not to be understood on the model of things, that is objects of knowledge“ I looked at him as if saying “um explain please”, and I guess a lot of people were looking at him like that as well.
“Why humans exist is not something you can understand as if it’s some IKEA chair; the meaning has no right path or design. It’s more on a spiritual sense you go through on your own.” That was kinda like what the monk was saying earlier. After he said that, I left, trying to process what I had learned, who I learned it from, and what they said.
I soon exited the hall and headed straight to the Greek exhibit. I had always enjoyed the Greek legends. A video played, showing one of the most famous legends of how humanity started; it's said that we were created out of clay with two heads, four arms, and four legs, but Zeus thought that we had too much power. So, he split us up with a bolt of lighting -real practical- and now they spent their whole lives looking for their soul mate.
“Man is a many-sided being; he needs to understand the universe in the light of his different activities and experiences” I repeated this under my breath. I remembered reading that in a metaphysics article for a project once. I looked at the clock; it was close to three o’clock. My mom was gonna pick me up soon…
I sat on a bench with my headphones. Just me, my music, and the world; soon I pulled out my sketchbook and started to draw things around me, kind of like how I saw the world around me.
“You should choose something else as a career, you won't make much as an artist”
I sighed as that simple quote kept repeating in my thoughts. People can be so rude. As a teenager, I have a self-esteem and my sense of self-worth is at an all time low. Of course, I’m being dramatic, but simple words can crush anyone's dream.
“The pursuit of engagement and the pursuit of pleasure are often solitary, solipsistic endeavors. Humans beings...want meaning and purpose in life”
I jumped for the second time today, I swear I'm gonna die before I find meaning in my life if I don't start becoming more aware of my surrounding.
“My apologies, but that's what you’re wondering too, right? I've only just recently been enlightened.” I looked at this total stranger, she wasn't much older than me, that's for sure.
“That's just great. Another person who has their life figured out. Why does it feels like I'm always getting left behind?” I said under my breath; whether the stranger heard it or not, she did not indicate that she did.
She leaned over my shoulder. “Those are beautiful drawings, are you self-taught?” I nodded but then sighed.
“Is this what you want to do? You certainly have talent and skill, what's got you down?” I shrugged. Is drawing what I wanna do?
“I wanna do a lot of different things. A lot of careers, but I don't know if that's allowed. I wish there was a handbook for this” I confessed to this total stranger.
She immediately jumped up off the bench and stood in front of me with her hands on her hips. “Who says you can't? It's your element! We all have multiple elements or things we’re good at. Whats a good example…” She got quiet for a second until she screamed,
“The avatar! He knows all the elements right? Fire, Earth, Air, and Water. Those are like his talents! If he can have multiple, so can you!” I laughed, she was so cute jumping around, rambling on and on.
“Happiness is the experience of joy, contentment, and well-being combined with a sense that life is good and worthwhile” The stranger raised her hands in a v formation for dramatic flare. She looked back at me, staring into my eyes as if she can see into my soul; it scared me a bit. She sat back down.
“It's like I said, humans want life to have a meaning.”
“So what you’re saying is that life has no meaning, but humans give life a meaning?” She nodded slowly as if to say “well duh!”
I laughed. “Human existence is in some way on its own.”
I look ahead of me. I finally understand it’s not just one factor, it’s all the factors that help you figure out your life. Whether it be religion, my own feelings, or a philosophy I choose to live by. In the end, it will be my decision.
“I’m gonna do what I want! It’s not even gonna be one thing either, I’m gonna do a lot of things” I say. I got this bubbly feeling of excitement in my stomach. I turned to thank the girl and ask for her name, but like the old lady, she was gone.
“I’m gonna be really freaked out if I’ve been talking to a ghost this whole entire time.”
"Metaphysics." Britannica School, Encyclopædia Britannica, 4 Feb. 2009. school.eb.com/levels/high/article/metaphysics/108718. Accessed 15 May. 2017.
"Existentialism." Britannica School, Encyclopædia Britannica, 26 Apr. 2012. school.eb.com/levels/high/article/existentialism/108678.
Gaarder, Jostein, and Paulette MÃ¸ller. Sophie's World: a Novel about the History of Philosophy. New York, Farrar Straus Giroux, 2007.
Frankl, Viktor Emil. Man Searching For Meaning. Boston, MA, Beacon Press, 2006.
Lewis, C. S. The Chronicles of Narnia. London, HarperCollins, 2005.
Robinson, Ken, and Lou Aronica. Finding Your Element: How to Discover Your Talents and Passions and Transform Your Life. London, Penguin Books, 2014.
Cutler, Howard C., and Dalai Lama XIV. The Art of Happiness. New York City, NY, Riverhead Hardcover, 1998.