No, not that kind of pusher. Let me explain.
Years ago, I came across a collection of science fiction stories, one of my favorite literary genres.
One story really grabbed me. It’s stayed with me for decades.
An alien ship is stranded in space. Its crew is an assortment of life forms, all serving in extremely specific roles: There is a Brain, who oversees the mission; the Eye who charts their course, the Ear that listens for messages from other ships and planets, and so forth.
It turns out its Pusher–the life form that actually makes the ship go–has died in an unfortunate accident. Unless they can find another Pusher–fast–they will all die, too.
Fortunately, they discover they are very close to a planet of rogue Pushers–Pushers who have cut off for so long from their fellow Pushers, they don’t even realize they ARE Pushers. Having no knowledge of their true place in life, they vent their frustration and and anxiety by waging war on one another. This horrifies the crew. But they know they have no choice but to try to enlist one of them to Push.
They find a lone Pusher and somehow get him on the ship. He’s a human being (of course) from Earth.
He’s terrified of the strange creatures on board. He’s angry he’s been kidnapped. He can’t believe what the aliens are telling him–that his true calling–humanity’s true calling in life–is to “make spaceships go”. He can’t believe that war, conflict, murder, violence among his people are all because they are not able to do what they are meant to do. That humans are deeply unhappy and feel misplaced and unbalanced, because their purpose in life has been untapped for ages.
The aliens beg him to consider their offer. Turns out there isn’t much keeping him on earth-no family, few friends, hates his work. It might be an amazing adventure! They can even bring him back to Earth, if he desires. Or he can explore the universe with them. They assure him that there are many other planets of (ushers, so he will have lots of company. They will reward him if he signs on.
He begins to feel at ease with them. He sympathizes with their plight. He wishes he could help.
But he still protests. He has no idea how to “push” a spaceship.
They guide him to his post. “Just try,” they plead.
The last sentence? “Slowly, the ship began to move.”
I’ve never found that story since, and I have no idea who wrote, or when. But every time I think of it, a little shiver goes through my heart.
Now, I don’t really believe that my main purpose in life is to push a spaceship. At least, I’d hate to give up my art and my writing to even push a car. (Now, if they had needed someone to hunt-and-gather lovely objects from thrift shops, beaches and antique stores…..)
But I love the concept that there are reasons for us to be here, even if we cannot always see the reasons, or understand them.
I love that this story is one way of explaining that.
And I love that even if we don’t think we know how to Push, it is in our nature to recognize when we need to Push.
I know when I finally stepped up to being an artist, something in my life began to move.
I know when I overcame my fears and became a martial artist, something in my life shook loose.
I know when I realized I was not too old to learn how to ride a horse, something in my life became richer.
I know when I became a hospice volunteer, something in my heart expanded.
Now it’s California. I don’t know what that’s about yet. I think I know, but I really don’t.
But I know when it’s time to Push, I will.
P.S. I just found the story! (I love the interweb….) It’s called “Specialist” by Robert Sheckely, and was published in 1953–one year after I was born!