A hydrogen ion binds to the rotor of the ATP synthase and it turns. Two more turns and another ATP is created. The electron transport chain creates a hydrogen-ion gradient in the walls of the mitochondria, and the tiny ATP synthase produces more energy. Its form is perfect for its function. Its purpose lies in its possession of the things that make it up– the alpha and beta complexes, the gamma protein, the c-subunits which bind the hydrogen ions. Within our bodies, the functional form of the ATP synthase gives us energy so that cells can live. The cells provide organization for the tissues, each tissue part of a different organ, each organ connected to another. Each form of different organization of cells is part of a larger system, making up the fascinating mystery of the human body. And it all starts at the ATP synthase, giving us energy to live the mystery of our person, to discover who we are, to discover why we are.
The ATP synthase has its purpose so clearly defined in its very form; every part fits together to create energy in the form of Adenosine Triphosphate (ATP). The ATP Synthase has a clear purpose; I long to know mine. As millions of these tiny proteins turn, I sit in Mayborn, on Commons, the afternoon-turned-evening light shining through half-circle windows. Around me are white arches, beside me are hard wooden chairs. The space is minimalist, perfect for reflection. As I stare at the monochrome walls, I see the shadows of the differential equations scrawled on Stevenson boards, the endless words from ethics treatises and field notes, the musical notes of Carl Flesch scales and Dont etudes. My purpose for living is often lost among these things, and although I blink, I cannot make these images go away. I feel as if I am just going, going, going, on a treadmill, moving, but static.
What is my purpose? Just thinking of a larger point to my life makes that dull pain come back, the one between my eyes that feels like a physical mental block. This is a question that seems impossible to answer… “Oh, the places you’ll go,” seems laughable when one’s direction can be 360 degrees around them. I remember the glow I have seen in some students’ faces; they have known forever that they are meant to be a special education teacher, or a lawyer who combats systemic injustice, or an architect who designs buildings that reach to the sky. They seem to glow in their knowing. But then there is me, with the constant doubts, the (seemingly) nagging parents who “just want me to do well,” the faith that is so many times shaky. If I am the ATP synthase, then I am a defective ATP synthase, one that is improperly formed, backwards maybe, creating the proton gradient in the wrong direction. I am not sure of my form, of my passions or interests. I am interested in a million things without much direction. My purpose is lost in the melee.
I long to know the form that God created me with, to discover the passions that only have to be sparked, to ignite whatever it is that will enable me to fulfill my purpose. That beautiful verse from the Psalms (“For you formed my inmost being, you knit me together in my mother’s womb.”)1 moves through my head, assuring me.
These thoughts circle round and round in my head as I walk out of the halls of Mayborn and onto the beauty of the Peabody path. What was I created for? Why am I here, why am I me? Maybe finding my purpose will help me hone my interests, develop my talents; if I have a goal in mind, I can work towards it. Visualize and succeed. But the only answers I have heard at conferences and from friends focus around developing happiness, and happiness seems empty, impermanent. I have not been happy in a long time. I try to picture the moment; it was so many months since I had felt my heart full beyond measure. And then I can see it. It is winter break, and I am standing in a large banquet room at a hotel, talking to men and women involved in various ways in the Catholic religious life. I had been talking for hours to so many people–some who spent their days on the streets of Los Angeles, others in urban housing in New York City. Some served women in crisis pregnancies, and others the homeless. Speaking to them, their faces alight with joy about the work that they were doing, my heart grew so light. I was talking with people who worked in the service of love. Each hour, each day was about loving other people by teaching, feeding, washing, cleaning.
I watch a leaf fall from a tree in Commons, its colors catching the light. Its purpose is beauty… it has existed for this moment. Its form is perfect for its function; they align in unity, and it has no consciousness to worry about. But I am different. I am conscious and confused, although I am beginning to suspect that I exist for a different purpose: the service of love. This thought is as nascent as the first bit of orange on an entirely green leaf, just as new and special. Perhaps, we exist to spread the love that we were created with and for, to others. Closing my eyes and continuing to walk, I can see the laughing religious brothers and sisters, talking about their joy in the service to the most unloved among us.
St. Francis of Assisi, who gave up wealth and a busy social life to serve the poor, said “We have been called to heal wounds, to unite what has fallen away, and to bring home those who have lost their way.”2 I think of the times that I have “healed wounds,” whether those are academic wounds through helping friends with calculus problems, emotional wounds by listening to rants and fits of crying, or spiritual wounds by praying with others. But I am not perfect. I think of the times when I have inflicted wounds–when I have said that I was “too busy” or life was “too crazy,” when I put myself first and others last, when I forgot my purpose and what I am here for, what I was made for.
Another leaf falls, its colors bright and beautiful, and a conclusion surfaces among the swirl of thoughts: if I am here in the service of love, to serve others, then perhaps we are all here to serve each other, in different ways but for the same ultimate goal of fulfillment, happiness.. I think of the happiness, almost palpable, on the faces of the Catholic religious whom I met at the conference, the smiles that I have seen from Vanderbilt students when they engage in service work. As the memories of so many faces and so many smiles floods my mind, a collage of joy, I cannot help but think that I have hit upon something important. Perhaps we are here to serve each other.
When we begin to believe that we are here to serve in love, we begin to know the face of love. St. Augustine of Hippo said, “What does love look like? It has the hands to help others. It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has eyes to see misery and want. It has the ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men. That is what love looks like.”3 These are not literal hands and literal feet, although they can be. But he meant that all of our senses, as we possess them, should be attuned to see the face of love. The more we see opportunities to serve in love, the more we will begin to recognize and know what love means. As we think about others, we become more attuned to knowing when someone needs to talk, even if the General Chemistry exam is the next day. We can sense when someone may need a hug or a cupcake. Self-sacrifice becomes automatic… we begin to know what it means to love.
Like anything, loving is a habit. And it is an addictive habit. The more we reach out to people and the more people we reach out to, the more we begin to feel fulfilled in helping others, to walk away from conversations with a heart lifted in the happiness of helping some other soul. As we begin to serve love and know love, we begin to love Love itself… a positive feedback loop which only increases in every cycle.
People of faith hold that God has created us for distinct purposes, but that all purposes lead to serving him through serving others. He creates us with specific passions that over time, we discover; although our form is intended for our function, we only discover our form, our passions, as we investigate the different “functions” we can take throughout our years here. When I have doubts about the existence of God, I have only to ask a Peabody education major about the American education system, a Neuroscience major about serotonin production, or a professional about how they chose their career, and my faith is reaffirmed again; such interests could only have been created out of God Himself, formed at conception, discovered through life. Their forms are perfectly created for their role in knowing, loving, and serving God, even though the big picture can be murky, the pixels blurred.
It is dark now and the leaves wave slowly in the night breeze. As I step onto the grass of Highland, I realize that I have found rest in my reflections. My thoughts slow; I am nearly home. As I swipe into my dorm, so many thoughts in my head, I stop before entering my Mayfield. I can see ahead of me the paper that I printed a week ago: the list of beatitudes for the modern Christian that Pope Francis created. They are written in bullet points, but I can almost hear them as if Pope Francis were sitting across from me in the Common room, just speaking. “Blessed are those who look into the eyes of the abandoned and marginalized and show them their closeness. Blessed are those who see God in every person and strive to make others also discover him. Blessed are those who protect and care for our common home. Blessed are those who renounce their own comfort in order to help others…”4 All of them stare at me, confirmation of my thoughts in the past hour. I close my eyes and shut the door, and then reopen them, committed. My purpose is to know, love, and serve God and His embodiment: love. My form, I know, I will discover in the days and years to come. In the meantime, I will fulfill my purpose; how could I forget? There are so many reminders all around me.
1 Psalm 139:13
2. St. Francis of Assisi. The Legend of the Three Companions. 3. Confessions. St. Augustine. 4. Pentin, E. (n.d.). Pope Francis Proposes 6 New Beatitudes to Confront Today’s Troubles. Retrieved November 6, 2016 from http://www.ncregister.com/blog/edward-pentin/pope-francis-proposes-6-newbeatitudes-to-confront-todays-troubles