“The purpose of life is to be defeated by greater and greater things.” – Rainer Maria Rilke
He goes by the name of Popeye. He couldn’t remember the story of why people started calling him that but he liked it enough to have the cartoon Popeye tattooed on both of his arms.
2017 was a tough year for Popeye. He lost his drivers license when he was arrested for drunk driving, which lead to him losing his job. He bought an old RV from a lady who had just lost he husband for $200 and decided to head to Florida. There was nothing left for him in Ohio and besides it was cold as shit and he was tired of the snow.
So with no divers license, or a tag or title for his RV Popeye headed south staying off the interstates, taking his time, trying not push his $200 home on wheels. He made it about 500 miles to a Wal-Mart parking lot in my city before the RV gave-up. Popeye stayed broke down there for a couple of weeks which the shopping center owner didn’t appreciate and they gave him two options, move the RV or they would move it for him. So he stuffed what he could of his belongings into two trash bags and headed for the shelter of a bridge close by.
It took him about a week to make the 5 mile trek to our downtown, a 72-year-old man moves slow he told me. The shelters wouldn’t take him because he drank and he wouldn’t listen to them preach about how good Jesus was, so he stayed outside, under the bridge with the other heathens he said with a smile.
I learned all this sitting on the wall next to my church with Popeye on sunny but cold Tuesday morning. He had been inside to get a cup of coffee and a muffin and was trying to figure out his next move. Maybe head downtown and play his harmonica for spare change or get someone to buy him a cup of coffee at McDonald’s where he would nurse it slowly until they kicked him out before the lunch rush. Popeye smiled at me and said he had options, lots of options but all of his options were about today, this moment and none of them included a roof over his head or heat that night.
“The purpose of life is to be defeated by greater and greater things.” I thought of this quote when I was talking with Popeye. What struck me about this man was his optimism, he was down, in my eyes beat down but he was convinced that tomorrow would be a better day. The reality for him at this point was that tomorrow would just bring him more of yesterday but he truly felt that his big break was just around the corner. He would quit drinking and use his social security and military pension checks to find an apartment. Maybe he would have a chat with God and finally make peace with Him and himself. How many more things were out there that could defeat him? How many more things are out there that can defeat any of us?
Sadly, the list is endless, but that is the purpose of life. To slay the dragons thrown at us and to come out on the other side, torn and mangled but stronger than we were before. To share the defeats with others and support and love those battling defeats themselves. “I am what I am and that’s all that I am” Popeye would say. A simple truth? The only truth.