When Did You Start Your Rosebud Quest?

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In the opening scene of Citizen Kane, the titular protagonist breathes his last breath. “Rosebud,” he whispers as he releases his last grasp of a snow globe that falls to the floor and shatters.

We then spend the next two hours reliving the life of Charles Foster Kane as reporters vainly search for the meaning of his last word. Why would the world’s richest man, a collector of antiquities galore, a prominent citizen, say “Rosebud”?

What did “Rosebud” mean to Charles Foster Kane?

More importantly, what does “Rosebud” mean to us?

In the interest of avoiding revealing a movie’s ending, I won’t tell you what “Rosebud” represents in Citizen Kane. If you’re one of the rare people who have not seen what many call the greatest movie of all time, well, I’d feel bad if I spoiled it for you.

Less important than the physical nature of “Rosebud” is the metaphysical nature experienced in the search for “Rosebud.” If the movie told you what “Rosebud” was at the very beginning, it’s poignant significance would be lost. So, you must suffer through Charles Foster Kane’s entire life before you can appreciate “Rosebud.”

OK, OK, I know. I probably scared you by using the word “metaphysical.” You might not be comfortable with such philosophical meanderings, but you know what it means.

The physical world is rigid. You can grab it, like Kane grabbed his snow globe. More so, you can feel it with your fingertips.

The metaphysical world is abstract. You can’t grab it, like Kane can’t grab his memory of “Rosebud.” You can only feel the abstract in your heart.

Let’s focus on “memory,” for that’s where your Rosebud resides.

Don’t confuse your Rosebud with the meaning of your life. It’s a lot easier to discover the meaning of your life than it is to uncover the Rosebud deep within your heart. Think of Rosebud as the reason for the meaning of your life.

Allow me to explain this in mathematical terms. You might remember taking geometry in high school. You would be asked to put together a series of logical mathematical statements to create a “proof.” This proof represents a practical reality. It’s rigid. In the sense that a proof leads directly to engineering, you can feel it with your fingers.

But what came before the proof? What were the initial building blocks, the foundation from which you built your proof? Those were (and continue to be) called “axioms.” Axioms represent truths so fundamental that everyone accepts them without question. An axiom is abstract. You can’t prove it. You can only believe it in your heart.

As you progress in life, you move from the axioms your parents, teachers, and pastors impressed upon you in your youth, to the personal proofs you constructed for use in your adult life. Why do proofs become more important? Because you live in a world of proofs.

Axioms have very little practical value.

Except, without axioms, you would have no proofs, and without proofs, you would have no world, and without a world, there would be no you.

See how this is beginning to get abstract?

Charles Foster Kane had a very evident proof: he instinctively sought to – and often succeeded in – doing the very thing everyone told him he couldn’t (or shouldn’t) do. This simple rule dominated his life. It brought him to soaring heights. It led him to his lowest lows.

It defined the meaning of his life, but it failed to explain the reason for that meaning. That would be Kane’s axiom. That axiom would be, for him, Rosebud.

When you reach a certain age, you throw away the axioms because the proofs provide all the direction you need. Axioms are nothing more than childhood trinkets. You want to keep them for nostalgic purposes, but you end up throwing them away when your basement gets too crowded.

As you get older, something different happens. You’ve lived a life that honors your proofs. Because your proofs are based on axioms, your life also honors the fundamental axioms upon which your proofs have been built.

But, at some point, you get curious. As confident as you are in those proofs, you can’t rebuild them if called to do so. That’s because you long ago threw out the axioms you needed to build those proofs.

When you reach this realization, that’s when you start your Rosebud Quest.

Everyone begins their Rosebud Quest eventually. Charles Foster Kane didn’t begin his until his last dying breath. (Or was his entire life a search? The movie doesn’t provide a definitive answer.)

If you’ve read this far, it means you’re curious. It also means you’ve either already started your Rosebud Quest or are about to undertake it.

As someone far into this journey, I can be your Sherpa, at least until you reach base camp.

Before you take your first step, try to remember when you tossed aside your axioms. I can remember exactly when I did it. I was a young teenager in the early years of high school.

I was very practical back then. It was the result of one of many proofs I carried within my brain. I correctly assumed my axioms were just collecting abstract dust. I mistakenly assumed my brain was reaching capacity and I needed to make room.

I incorrectly assumed these axioms were so universal they could never be forgotten. I figured, because they were universal, they’d be readily accessible in some handy reference work.

I was wrong.

And so I forgot my axioms.

To this day, I don’t know what that were.

Ironically, it was in college when I began my Rosebud Quest. So certain was I of their validity, that I wanted to share them with my friends who had not had the advantage of understanding them.

You may have had a similar experience. Or you may have discovered your need to recapture your axioms when you had kids. I know, for me, having kids elevated the need to find those axioms.

Unfortunately, once Rosebud is lost, it’s hard to find.

Actually, it’s not that hard. All you need is a time machine.

OK, there’s no such thing as a time machine, so it really is hard.

The closest thing we have to a time machine is a journal, a diary, or a newspaper. Other than that, we have people’s memories.

And memories can be tricky things. You can’t rely on only one set of memories. You need to triangulate. Get as many memories as possible and find the midpoint. Start with your own, expand to your family, then tap into your friends.

Have an open discussion. Any little piece of data can trigger a flood of memories.

Be warned though, the further back in time you go, the fewer data points you have to triangulate.

You will reach a point where you will need a leap of faith to find your Rosebud.

And, more than anything else, that requires your heart.

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