The Purpose

The Purpose

From A 5th Portion of Chicken Soup for the Soul

The Purpose

Life was coasting along for Jim Colbert. He had a good home, nice wife, three kids, a good job. And he had reached the fine age of twenty-eight, when maturity really starts to take its grip and settle in.

Then life took a sudden curve for Jim. Instead of coming back to his good home, he found himself plunging steeply downward, as if he were on tracks headed for the blackest cave he had ever known.

Soon after the day Jim found himself having trouble walking, the next thing he knew he was strapped into an iron lung, living at a hospital, confined in a coffin-like machine. The only thing that protruded was his head. For nine months, Jim was unable to move his body.

Doctors informed him he had polio. If he left the machine, his life would be over. He would no longer be able to breathe.

Jim was living his nightmare wide awake. He watched as his wife stood over him at the hospital and whispered that she had to leave him and take the kids with her.

“Go ahead,” he told her firmly. “I’m worthless, anyhow.”

That was his assessment. A worthless man with a worthless body. He forgot, however, that he didn’t have a worthless brain.

When he was released from the hospital, he contacted the state department of rehabilitation and soon went back to school to study psychology. He had to accept that he would never walk again.

His life now came equipped without a wife, children or a good home. Instead, it came with a wheelchair, two disabled roommates and an apartment they shared in Los Angeles.

It was a time when Jim could have steeped in bitterness. His classes were tough and his two roommates were the partying kind. One also was in a wheelchair. The other had a fatal disease called cystic fibrosis. All three, however, quickly learned how to have a good time and do crazy things. Disabilities didn’t stop them. They even went on desert camping trips.

Jim considered himself only a half-man, living in a wheelchair. His attitude began to change when women smiled back. Relief swept over him. Maybe that side of his life wasn’t completely over. It wasn’t.

Within a few years, Jim became a full-time psychologist. He helped set up foster care group homes. He worked with juvenile offenders. And in the end, he went into private practice, where he made quite a tidy living and carried some prestige in his community.

Years rolled by until one evening, he woke up in a sweat. He was getting older, and it suddenly struck him that he hadn’t fulfilled his life’s purpose. He didn’t know what that purpose was, but he knew it wasn’t just to live a life of affluence and prestige.

He began to shed his material life, his material goods, like a snake gets rid of old skin. But it was still unclear to him what he was supposed to do.

Friends and colleagues found the answer for him. Go to the county institution where foster children are temporarily kept, they pleaded, and read the files of the kids who don’t get out of there.

He found that the kids who remained institutionalized, without any type of foster home, were children with severe medical needs. They were either dying or needed full-time care because of chronic illnesses.

The case that stopped him short was of a seventeen-year-old boy who sat in his wheelchair slamming his head all day long against a cement wall. He had never been provided a foster home. His life had been only the institution. No love. No warmth.

The next day Jim donated his home and opened one of the first foster care homes devoted to chronically and terminally ill children. Within four years he had opened four homes, wheeling and dealing with friends for low rents. He wheeled and dealed for board members. He wheeled and dealed for people to give their time and donations.

Forced to operate all the homes on a shoestring budget, he manages to pay his staff the highest wages in the industry—which still isn’t much. Each home (which includes one for deaf children) has a philosophy of providing the most love possible for each child. Here’s what has happened with some of his children:

Carlos, twelve, had cystic fibrosis. When he arrived at the home, he was angry and bitter. He hated the home. He hated the staff. But when he realized they weren’t leaving, he began to show his own love and affection that had been locked away inside. Within a short time, he was the mascot of Samadana foster homes. The entire staff loved him. Before he died, he lost several of his friends to illness. He dreamed that he was standing on a cliff and his friends were waving at him. Don’t be afraid, they told him. You can breathe so much easier here. When you’re ready, a white horse will come and carry you over to us. He died believing that. He died feeling loved.

Tanya, seven, had cystic fibrosis and a zest for life that enthralled Jim and his staff. One thing she liked more than anything in the world was Barbie dolls, so her caregivers went out of their way to get her the biggest and best Barbies. Not one of Tanya’s birthdays went by without a Barbie, and usually more than one. When she fell so ill and was hospitalized, Tim, who helps manage the homes, came up with a giant pink Barbie caravan with more dolls, just to give Tanya the edge to keep on living. Tanya is now reunited with her mother.

Alicia, fourteen, had two liver transplants and has been given a life estimate of forty-five years. Nothing stops Alicia. She lives her life to the fullest. When she graduated from junior high, she asked the staff to throw her a party with all her friends and to buy everyone lunch. The staff did. When she was awarded a trip to Washington, D.C., from a school program, they scraped up spending money for her. They love her spirit and joy in life. Most of all, they love her because she has a deep well filled with gratitude that she shares.

Despite his success, Jim still worries. He’s aging now. There are still many children to be rescued. He wants to make sure his program will carry on and that there will be enough money and visionaries to continue and expand.

If it does, he will have found his true purpose for living.

Diana Chapman

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