Barnes and Noble Bookstore at the Asheville Mall occupies two floors; the upper floor circles the lower, is bordered by a high and clear rail, and provides an open view to the floor below.
The children’s books and toys are on the upper floor.
Last week, as I was riding the down escalator, a little boy, four or five years old, stood on his tiptoes next to the rail, leaned his head over, and called-out in a loud, excited voice: “Mommy, come look at all the choices I have; there are so many! I need your help to make up my mind.” His mother looked up at him with an embarrassed but pleased look on her face and hurried to the up escalator to go to her son’s side.
This past Thursday, as I walked south on Biltmore Avenue near Mast General Store in downtown, I passed a twenty-something young man who was headed in the other direction. He had curly red hair held off his forehead by a blue bandana; he wore brownish overalls, and a flannel shirt with rolled-up sleeves, and he had sturdy, scuffed boots on his feet. He carried a heavy-looking pack on his back. Likely, he was a mountain-hiker who had left the trail to spend a few days in Asheville.
As he passed me, he made fleeting but real eye-contact. I said, “Mornin’,” and he surprised me by asking, “And what do you think I should do with my life?” He kept walking, so I turned to say, “That’s a really big question, you know?” Without breaking his stride, he kept moving and said, with a smile on his face, “Right? I keep asking.”
I am not sure where the conversation would have taken us had he decided to stop and talk, but, for the rest of the day, I was aware that almost everyone I saw was, consciously or not, probably asking a version of his question.
Whatever it is we do with our lives, I believe we are trying to satisfy our authentic and aching needs to know and be known, to love and be loved, to feel and to share joy. Our doing is both a search for and an expression of being. The hope is that our being and doing will become more and more consistent with each other and that what we do with our time, energy, and gifts will grow from and nurture our deepest and truest sense of identity.
The little boy in the bookstore asked his mother to help him decide among his choices, and she went to where he was to help him. The young man on the street asked a profound question, but he kept walking.
Ultimately, of course, we have to answer life’s most crucial questions—the ones about identity and purpose—for ourselves.
But, we can help each other.
We don’t have to hurry past each other, walk alone, and search for answers in isolation.
We can stand by each other’s sides and explore together what seems most right, most life-giving, and most likely to put us in range of the those things for which we most truly yearn.
An early description of the followers of Jesus was “the people of the Way”; they were a community of pilgrims who shared the road with one another, talked about what they were learning as they journeyed, encouraged each other, and discovered within each of them and among all of them the presence of Love and Joy.