I once knew someone who would get very unnerved about nothing in particular. She had odd quirks and strange habits, and no one quite knew why. She was incredibly spontaneous and I often feared that one day she would leave and never come back without as much as a farewell. She would walk around as if she had lost something; her eyes ever shifting from one place to another.
Every day she would leave her house and just walk. Her favorite destination was the library. She would go there and browse through the books with her glasses on and eyes squinted. She searched with purpose, like she was trying to find a specific book without knowing its call number. Each day she tackled a different section of the library. She would spend hours a day opening and closing books, taking books off shelves and putting them back on; pouring over the contents of her choice of works.
I often speculated about what she could be looking for, but in reality, I don’t think she knew herself. She knew, however, that once she found it, she would know it.
She didn’t just search the library. No. This was a daily endeavor. Everywhere she went, she searched for this thing of hers that was missing. She never seemed fully present, because her mind was far off, lost in thought. What thoughts consumed her mind, I couldn’t tell you. One can only guess the workings of my dear friend’s mind. Maybe she was thinking over evidence that she had acquired or musing about new places to explore. Whatever she was thinking of, she never stopped. I wondered if she even slept at night with all the thinking she did. How could one driven by such purpose, put it all on hold and merely sleep? I do not know.
But she would walk. And think. And search.
Some days she would walk alone in the city, staring at buildings and watching cars drive by. Sometimes it would look as if she had found this thing she was looking for. She would stop everything she was doing when something would catch her eye and she would just stare. In those moments, I wondered what she was seeing. Because to me, it would look like she was staring at an every day object, but I knew that couldn’t be what she saw, because her eyes would get wide and her pulse would quicken and her face shown with a sense of awe. And then just like that the moment would be over, and she would continue whatever it was she had been doing prior.
Another favorite place of hers was the old steeple on the corner of the street. They always left their doors open, maybe for wanderers like her. She would go there and just look. She would examine the wooden cross in the sanctuary and the bibles in each pew. She would rummage through their supplies and storage and book selections. She went into that old church so often you would have thought she had seen every last inch of it. But she never ceased to look.
I asked her once what it was she was searching ever so vigorously for, and she merely smiled at me and said “If only I knew.”
It’s been three months since my friend passed away. I was angry over the situation for a while. It wasn’t fair that she had searched her whole life, day and night, for something she wasn’t destined to find. I felt angry for her that she had gone through life so unaware, like she had somehow been cheated. But looking back on her life I realized for the first time that she had lived a fuller life than anyone else I knew. She searched in wonder and amazement. Her eyes lit up at every sight like she was starstruck. Because of her wanderings, she was keen to understand things; she studied things in life most people take for granted. In those moments where her eyes got filled with wonder, I realized, were times she found traces of what she was looking for. Those moments brought her a happiness no one around her could comprehend.
Yet in her dying days, laying in a hospital bed, body plagued with cancer, was when I saw her the happiest. I decided to ask her one last question. In the past, I knew, she had never answered any one before, but I might never get another chance.
“Why now, are you happier than all other times I have ever seen you?” I asked, hardly expecting an answer from my odd, dying friend.
Her lips curled into a familiar smile and her eyes lit up one last time with the childlike bewilderment that I admired so much in her. “Soon,” she said. “I will find what I had been looking for.”