My colleague in Jamaica for two weeks was a smoker. I’ve never done that but I like to get out of the office and stretch my legs so I would often accompany him on his smoking breaks. We were working at a small industrial plant on the outskirts of Kingston so there wasn’t much scope for beautiful strolls. Mostly we either left the plant and turned left or left the plant and turned right.
This was a turn right day. We could see the Caribbean between the sugar refinery and cement works. Buses and small trucks whistled by but there was enough of a verge to walk on. We noticed a couple of police officers approaching on foot and readied ourselves for a polite good morning nod and to carry on. But to our surprise they stopped us with an upturned palm.
“What is your mission?” was the only thing they said.
Oh, interesting question I thought. If you’d asked me when I was six it would have been to become a nun like my teacher and pray. Or maybe a martyr if I got the chance. But that was in the distant past. I had thought my mission might have been to work at a human rights organization, yet here I was in industry. Did I no longer have a mission? Should I have a mission? How could it be that in my mid 20s I was just traveling the world and strolling along roads with no sense of purpose? No mission? I started to excuse my inadequacy to the police officer then realized that my colleague had responded quite differently.
“I’m not allowed to smoke in the office so I come outside” he said calmly.
Oh. Second time in 30 seconds I was surprised. THAT sort of mission. Not my purpose on the planet after all, just why are we on a verge in an industrial area. You dummy Catarina. Good job I hadn’t got far with my answer.
It turned out they had been observing us for several days and convinced themselves we must be planning some kind of heist and were checking the area out. Quite flattering really to be mistaken for major ne’er-do-wells in our work suits. We don’t have an ounce of villainy between us beyond maybe poking fun at someone who can’t hear us.
Anyway, I reckon maybe it is no bad thing to consider your mission from time to time. I have reflected on it since then and the best description I can come up with is ‘walking through walls’. I find walls rather inconvenient and often dangerous. Walls between countries, between religions, between political parties, between departments in a company, between doctors and patients, teachers and students… I could go on at even more length but i expect you get the drift. Walls don’t often help. Knock’em down and let the light flood through I say. Let those on either side be amazed to realize that the others are human beings too in their spare time. That we usually have more to gain from cooperation and building something better together than preserving our territory and status quo.
What’s your mission?