Tag Archives: Elizabeth Cunningham

What I’m Here to Do

Whew. Well, that’s a relief. Oprah has made it clear she’s not running for U.S. President in the 2020 elections. Good for Oprah. The country — and the world — could use a person with her gifts in the Oval Office, God knows, but Oprah knows her purpose lies elsewhere. She knows her mind.

As she was quoted in a New York Times article this week (“Oprah Had Ruled Out Running for President,” Jan. 25, 2018): “I’ve always felt very secure and confident with myself in knowing what I could do and what I could not. And so [running for President] is not something that interests me. I don’t have the DNA for it.”

She added: “I have to say the core of me is about conversations. Exploring the depth of our human experiences. That is what I do. […] Whether I do that through dramas, producing stories with OWN [Oprah Winfrey Network], or one-on-one conversations that matter, I know that’s what I’m here to do.”

If only all of us were as well aware of what we’re here to do. Just think of what we, collectively, could accomplish in our lifetimes here on Planet Earth….

I’ve been thinking such existential thoughts lately because several people I’ve known and cared about have recently died. Two of my former Creative Nonfiction Writing students in Taos, New Mexico, Elaine Sutton and Elizabeth Cunningham, passed away in the past several weeks after long illnesses. And this week a dear longtime friend of a good friend and neighbor here in San Miguel de Allende, died suddenly of a heart attack. (See the New York Times obituary, “Olivia Cole, Award-Winning ‘Roots’ Actress, Is Dead at 75,” Jan. 24, 2018). Mortality and its messages have been on my mind.

What are we here to do? Or, to narrow the scope, What am I here to do?

Are such questions even definitively answerable — at least for those of us who aren’t Oprah? At times like these, I wish I knew.

Are we writers who write books (and essays and blogs), which few people read, doing what we’re here to do? Sometimes, I confess, given the fact that in today’s world there seem to be more writer-wannabes than willing readers, writing feels to me more like an exercise in futility than an expression of life’s purpose. It gets disheartening.


For months now I’ve been watching the slow-but-steady construction of a tall addition to a home across the street, next to my friend’s casa. From the patio of what I like to (facetiously) call my “penthouse” apartment here in San Miguel, I observe the men at work – six days a week, in the early morning cold into the late-afternoon heat – laying brick, hoisting columns, and, lately, creating a domed roof.

The foreman of the crew, who looks like the father of them all, is a true, old-time Mexican artisan, I can see. He knows what he’s doing. His confident body language says to me, unquestioningly, “This is what I’m here to do.”

The foreman of the work crew constructing the domed roof
Making progress on the roof

He and his men know they have created a work of art, a self-supporting vaulted ceiling made of bricks. Called a bóveda, the technique originated in Spain hundreds of years ago – no doubt Moor-inspired – and was brought to colonial Mexico with the conquistadors. Many of the lovely homes here boast this awe-inspiring architectural feature.

So, grasping at just about anything for inspiration, I’m now looking to these workmen. What am I here to do? Maybe just do the best I can do in whatever way I can do it. Day by day. Brick by brick. Until I’ve built a vaulted ceiling and can stand back and say, Ah, THIS is what I was meant to do.