Let me tell you a story.
When I was 17, I was living in a tiny rice farming village in rural Taiwan with my brother, his wife and new baby.
I was terribly, achingly lonely. There were not many people my age in the town at all – but those that there were, were in school, or preparing for university. They definitely did not speak English. My Chinese being shoddy, the only people I could really talk to were old people – who knew Japanese by virtue of Taiwan being a colony of Japan in World War II – or “mountain people”, the indigenous people who also knew Japanese (because they liked the Japanese better than the Chinese).
I was lonely. Very lonely.
So what I got to doing every day was bicycling over to a mountain I was fond of. I’d hike up to the pagoda on top, smoke a closet cigarette or three. Pray. Study holy writings (I’ve always loved religious studies).
I got to looking around and realized the mountain was even higher in the back, behind the pagoda. Full of tumbled bushes, weeds, trees. Taiwanese Jungle. I started to bring a cane knife (-machete) with me and began the process – one that would take me over 5 months – of whacking out a path all the way to very top of the mountain. The very top.
Sometimes as I struggled, whacking, pulling, cutting, heaving, I wondered why on earth I was doing this. Why I felt so bloody compelled to create this path. Why? When I’d be leaving Taiwan for sure, when it would go back to being bush. Who would use it, what was the point?
The only answer I could ever come to within my heart was that I wanted to. I wanted this path. I wanted to sit on the very top of that mountain and pray. That’s what I wanted. Waste or not, I reckoned, it was what I needed to do.
6 years later, when I was 24, I went back to Taiwan to see my brother. Out of old time’s sake, I wanted to visit my old mountain. I drove my scooter there (an upgrade from my bicycle!), Parked it at the base,hiked up to the pagoda. I thought that for sure my path would be gone – it had been 6 years, after all, but I wanted to check it out nonetheless.
I found that someone – who? – had discovered it. That someone had carefully lined the sides of the path that I had spent so many hours creating with beautiful smooth white stones. I couldn’t believe it. Stunned, I raced on up to the next level – and the next – and the next – and the next (there were 5 levels that I had carved out) and they were all lined, all cared for.
When I reached the top that day, I threw myself on the ground and cried that something so unforeseen had happened. I had created something from love with no expectation that it would live beyond me – but it had. My heart was full and happy and the beauty and magic in the world shone clearly.
Yesterday a new member of a group that I’ve started asked me why I bother doing what I do. “What’s the point? Why bother with this anyway?”
I thought of my path in Taiwan. I thought of Martin Luther King Jr’s words: Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter. Sometimes I can’t see the end in the beginning – sometimes it’s only recognizing that it matters to me and so it is important and should be acted upon. Sometimes it’s simply responding to a feeling that I am compelled to respond to. Create this , do that. It doesn’t always make sense. It doesn’t always have to.
“Why bother?” Indeed. Why. When we know we are facing an uphill climb anyway.
“Why bother?” It hurts to be misunderstood.
“Why bother?” I should focus on myself, right.
“Why bother?” It’s going to die off anyway.
“Why bother?” I won’t be here forever.
“Why bother?” Because I care
“Why bother?” Because I can do no less
“Why bother?” Because it matters to me
The universe and God are mysteries. They operate in ways that I will never fathom. But I trust that good will come from a first step that is made with love, from care, because it matters. I know that it is only mine to act; not necessarily to see the end. To have vision, yes, but more importantly, to trust that it will all unfold as it should.
Because it matters.
Originally published on August 7, 2012