By Michael Gos
I was at Abilene Christian University to address a gathering of two organizations of English professors. I attended the obligatory Thursday night cocktail party for just a few minutes, met a few dignitaries and a few old friends, and then snuck out to get dinner at Joe Allen’s Bar-b-que. It was my first time in Abilene and the place came highly recommended.
I eat alone frequently when I’m traveling and don’t mind it at all because it gives me a good opportunity for thinking about things. I occasionally see other men dining alone, but I was surprised when the hostess sat a lone woman at the table next to mine. She sat on the side opposite me so we were almost facing each other. It was awkward at first, but I suppose it was inevitable; before long we were talking.
She came to Abilene to see a motivational speaker that she had heard about. He was at the university for a few days and was giving a seminar. She said she was always looking for someone who might have the answers to the big questions in life.
She told me she tried the religion route. She had been in various Bible study groups and had even spent a week at a monastery in New Mexico just thinking and meditating—but never speaking.
She said she read and listened to CDs of several self-help gurus. Some, like Depak Chopra and Tony Robbins, I had heard of. Others were completely foreign to me. She also tried a book circle that specialized in philosophy. They had read all the biggies: Augustine, Spinoza, Rousseau, Nietzsche. She tried a lot of modern writers as well. She mentioned David Cook (Seven Days in Utopia) and Richard Bach (Illusions). Now, she said, she was pushing 40 and was starting to suspect that some of us just weren’t meant to find the answers.
Our dinners arrived and the conversation pretty much ended there. I don’t allow much to distract me from a slab of ribs, and she seemed to share that sentiment. When I was finished with dinner, I said goodbye and told her I hoped she’d find the answers this time. She thanked me and I left. To be honest, I was virtually certain that in a few weeks, if not sooner, she’d be off looking for answers somewhere else. I knew it because I’ve been there.
My thirties were a decade of searching. As my twenties came to a close I started to recognize that I was a kid with an attitude problem and sorely in need of some learning. We tend to judge ourselves against the rubric of the other people in our lives and my best friend, though eight years younger, was decades ahead of me in both maturity and understanding. Watching him made it clear that I had a lot to learn. It was under those circumstances that I began my quest.
From what I could tell, her journey paralleled mine. I too had teachers; I studied philosophers, explored religions and read every New Age philosophy book I could get my hands on. Sufi, Ayurveda, Native American, Japanese, Taoism—I devoured them all. I learned something from each of them, I suppose and today I recognize that some of them proved really valuable in helping me along the road. But still, as the decade drew to a close, I found I still didn’t have the answers I was searching for. Don’t get me wrong—life improved tremendously, but to say I had even begun to figure it all out would be a lie.
Then came the night of the Great Weiner Wonderment. I was sitting in front of an illegal fire I had built on Jamaica Beach, roasting a cheddarwurst I impaled on a stick I had sharpened with my Swiss Army knife. I watched the flames and lamented the fact that I had found none of the answers I had sought. Then, for no apparent reason, (well, maybe gravity had something to do with it) the sausage started to slide slowly down the stick toward the fire. I lunged for it in an attempt at the save, but my movement only served to accelerate the sausage slippage. Having failed at that, in hopes of reversing the direction of the slide I quickly jerked the stick upward in the manner of a fisherman trying to set a hook. However, with more than half the wiener now off the stick and the rest going fast, the jerking motion provided a kick that sent the sausage flying into the air where it turned a beautiful 5.6 degree of difficulty double flip and stuck a perfect belly-flop landing onto the coals. Of course I still hadn’t given up. I tried to pick it up with my fingers. Ouch! Ouch! Ouch! But it was just too hot. I tried stabbing it with my roasting stick, but the repeated jabs only served to turn it into loose pork and burning cheese. The smell of sausage and cheese cooking reminded me of pizza. I gave up and decided I would go to the Italian restaurant across the road.
As I got up to douse the fire, something clicked. I saw two truths. First, when your dinner destiny is pizza, the universe will not let you settle for a cheddarwurst. Second, and probably more important, I realized I had been searching in all the wrong places. Years ago, I came to the conclusion that I don’t believe in a God who answers my prayers—I believe in one who gave me the means to answer my own. Only now was I able to apply that understanding to this bigger question in life. The answers weren’t “out there” to be searched for; they were “in here,” waiting to be seen.
In our quest for understanding what is important and meaningful in life, every man (and woman) stands alone and is an equally qualified seeker of truth. It is our right—and our responsibility —as humans to strive to find this wisdom. For a decade I found no answers because I looked to others for them. But another’s answers couldn’t possibly satisfy my needs. We all need to find the answers that fit our own personal natures.
As humans, our birthright is this ability to find our own answers. Understanding is not a divine privilege reserved only for a few special, advanced souls. It is a right created for the divine that lives inside each and every one of us.
I gave my lecture at the university the next morning, had a chance to meet some really nice people, and then packed up and headed for home. As I drove along I-20, I thought about the woman in the restaurant again, and I had to smile because I had absolute confidence that she would figure it all out.
We all can—it’s just a matter of when.