First published in the Batesville Daily Guard November 16, 2016
I have been stationed in Puerto Rico for the last two-plus years, and I have seen sights both beautiful and interesting. The architecture of Old San Juan is majestic as you run alongside the foaming, roiling ocean in a cloudy haze, and the northern beaches at sunset paint a perfect picture of peace as you drive slowly home from a hard day at work. While those scenes evoke feelings of sophistication and serenity, there is another that just … makes you think?
The chapel at Fort Buchanan sits atop a steep hill, overlooking the installation. The slopes on every side are covered with green grass and offset with groves of palm trees and, on one side, near the road that passes by, you can see a set of stairs. They ascend from the bottom of the hill back up to … nothing, actually. It is as if they once were connected to a building, or maybe a stage in the days before a road was paved through there, but they no longer serve any function whatsoever. They are just … there. I had walked by them countless times on my way to visit the chapel without noticing they were even there. I had a sense that something about that beautiful scenery was a little off but, like a faint scent in the breeze, I couldn’t quite place what I was sensing.
I first noticed the stairs one day as I was walking to the chapel for a meeting. I was running a little behind, so I decided to commit the Cardinal Sin of the U.S. Army and cut across the grass. I was really hustling that day and I wasn’t looking where my feet were taking me, so I stubbed a toe on those concrete stairs and nearly sprawled face-first right across them. I have to be honest about something — I was very late for that meeting that day. Once I regained my balance, I looked down to see what the rather solid obstacle was that halted my rapid progress across that otherwise pristine grass. OK. I stumbled, so regroup and continue on, right? I wasn’t hurt and no one saw me, so I wasn’t embarrassed. I was actually mesmerized.
I stared at those stairs for a good while and for some reason, I could not get my mind to make my legs move again. There was something about these stairs that held my attention and I knew at that moment that I wasn’t going anywhere until I got to the bottom of why these things were there, why my life took me right across their out-of-the-way path, and why I was so captivated by them. I’m serious, folks. I was rooted to that spot. My time with these stairs was beginning to get a little uncomfortable when it finally hit me.
It wasn’t that they didn’t belong there. In fact, the opposite occurred to me. They did belong there, once. No one creates stairs in a grass field and then calls it a career. Once upon a time, those things were connected to something and served the very real purpose of assisting people up and down from … whatever that was. The structure that they used to belong to is long gone now, but those stairs were just … forgotten. Forgotten? Used to serve a purpose? Then it hit me.
We were all created for a purpose. No one is on this earth by accident and no one is completely useless. As long as we have breath in our lungs, we have the possibility to make a difference in peoples’ lives. In fact, I have ministered to people on their deathbeds who have said wise things to me that I have carried with me ever since. In their last moments, people have helped shape my life. They understood that however many seconds they had left, there was still a difference to make. They redeemed whatever time they had left.
I have also met people who are content to just be. Like those stairs, they were created for some reason and to perform some function but have been disconnected from that very thing. Like those stairs, they are just sort of out there in that field of their life, weather beaten and forgotten, only to be occasionally tripped over by folks who are in a hurry to answer the calling in their lives.
With that question answered, here’s one more for all of us to consider: Person of Purpose or Stairs to Nowhere — which are you?