There it was, a single firefly dancing in the dark. A single cherry blossom falling blissfully into a pile of pastel. The last tea leaf curling up – having served its purpose. According to Aristotle, everything has a telos, which is an end goal it’s meant to attain. Perhaps it’s naive to believe that complex living beings like humans can be whittled down to a single telos – but there is certainly a line to be drawn between what we humans are meant to be and what we want to be. I want to be a successful writer, most definitely, but is becoming one really my destiny? Who defines an individuals’ telos? Attempting to answer that question was like trying to climb a greased pole – except there really wasn’t any pole to begin with.
Maybe we could start by referring to one’s greatest ambition as their telos. My friend Ryan’s telos would then be becoming a doctor. What comes next after he accomplishes that goal? Does he shrivel up like a tea leaf and cease to be? Of course not, as one achieves their goals, they move on to new ones. One could chase ideals as grand as happiness or the meaning of life, or crave more earthly riches like big houses and fast cars. However, if an individual can only have a single telos, it’s reasonable to assume that it can only be fulfilled at or near death. Trying to think of an example led me down a road of various telos-es that seemed to get increasingly generic. The conclusion I eventually drew was rather anti-climatic, to say the least, but there is, in fact, a singular telos that all living beings share – to be until they aren’t.
That was just a fancy way to describe one’s lifespan. If I’m to die at age eighty, my telos would simply be to live out these eighty years, regardless of what I manage to do with them. Hmph. How shallow, you’re probably thinking, and you’re right. Given how transient life is in the first place, the very notion of a telos is laughable. Yet, I often find myself lying awake at night hoping to find mine. I begin my university studies in less than a month, and surrounded by many who seem to be so sure of their futures, I’m well and truly intimidated.
Now, I’m sure that the humble tea leaf has greater ambitions than becoming leaf soup – but as it sits at the bottom of a cup, I can only imagine it looking up at the heavens and coming to terms with the telos that had been forced upon it. As I stare at the academic timetable taped to my bedroom wall, I begin to understand the struggles of a tea leaf. Very much like how a telos was bestowed upon it at the moment of harvest, the upcoming four years, for better or for worse, bring with them a telos.