Radio Commentary



Why Am I Here?*
by Lou Ann Thomas

First Place Winner 2001 Kansas Press Women Communications Contest.

Why am I here?
In our 20's my college friends and I would stay up all night discussing that question.  We would spend hours debating the merits of existentialism vs. idealism, pragmatism vs. self-determination.  In our search for meaning to life we often asked ourselves and each other  -- why am I here?
I still ask that question on a regular basis, only now, some 20 years later,  it comes up when I'm standing in front of an open refrigerator door wondering what  prompted me to open the door in the first place.
The emphasis in asking that question now isn't to find any deep meaning to life, but rather to remind myself I was looking for my glasses so I can read the morning paper, or  be able to tell the difference between my box of corn flakes and the box of cat litter.  In that situation, you only pick up the wrong box  once before you learn to wear your glasses while preparing meals. 
The emphasis in the query has shifted from "WHY am I here?" to "Why am I HERE?"
There are days I spend most of it wandering from one room to the other trying to remember why I walked into the dining room, what was I searching for, what did I need and how important was it if I can no longer remember it? 
It is this wandering rather than wondering that has me a bit concerned. I've tried several techniques to counter this feeling of being lost in the Universe, but every one of them requires at least some remnant of a working memory. 
For instance....when I realize the notebook with the notes I need to write a story I'm working on is on the dining room table, I start repeating over and over in my head... "I'm going to get my notebook.  I'm going to get my book.  I'm going to get my new  book.  Barbara Kingsolver has a new book.  I'm going to get her new book."  And before I know it Iım in my car driving south muttering to myself and wondering, "Why am I here?"
I've also tried writing things down, but then I forget where I put the paper I wrote it on and then end up spending hours rummaging through closets and drawers looking for something  --  but I have no idea what.
I reluctantly acknowledge part of this is a memory problem, but I refuse to blame it all on a failing mind.  I, after all, can still sing all of the words to the Gilligan's Island theme song,  and I can name all seven drawfs --  Sleepy, Grumpy, Happy, Dopey, Doc and... those other two guys.
Well, okay, so maybe I have become recall challenged.  I tried to buy some of those herbs that are suppose to boost your memory, but by the time I got to the drug store I remembered I needed three belated birthday cards, new odor eaters in my tennies, and that drug stores sold chocolate.  I did remember the herbs, but it was several days later while I was standing in the middle of the hardware store wondering, "Why am I here?"
But maybe this is less about my memory slipping than it is about the fact that after 40-plus years of living Iıve simply learned, heard, seen and experienced so much that some things get pushed aside.  Oh sure, I can still remember the address of my first apartment but can't remember whether I brushed my teeth this morning without checking to see if my toothbrush is wet.  I can still recite the Gettysburg Address, but I can't find the piece of paper I laid down just 15 minutes ago.
There must be an even bigger picture to my mental lapses, my senior moments, my brain on Snickers bars  --  in our 20's when my friends and I sat around wondering why we were here we were trying to figure out if we were present for any particular reason.  In my 40's when I wonder why I am here, I know it's for a reason.  I just can't think of it right now.

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Copyright 2003 Lou Ann Thomas