Each time mustered the nerve to write this post, I couldn’t seem to connect the dots, or at least dot the I’s and lower case J’s. I tried time and time again, sitting in a sea of emotions, only to completely lose focus. Within a week of the first time that I’d sat down to write this post, the world lost a world-class musician and songwriter to suicide, we lost a world champion motorcycle racer to a senseless cycling accident, and we lost 22 unwitting and undeserving fans at an Ariana Grande concert in Manchester, to terrorism.
Again, I’d sit with my fingers poised on the keyboard, pulling myself together one more time to “put it all out there,” Then I’d realize that we had lost another, or two…or 12; another hero, another friend, another family member; in this case, my dad. Now, amidst a pandemic that, at the time of this post, has claimed over $850,000 lives worldwide…it’s time to get it done. Thank you for your patience. I think I needed this.
Buried in the anger, confusion, sadness, and disbelief of things, I thought, rather than sitting mired in the emotion and the gravity of circumstances, maybe can make sense of it, or better…make use of it, so here it goes.
I don’t take lightly the losses that we’ve sustained, nor the devastating sorrow that the families of those who’ve passed must be feeling. There are no adequate words to express my sorrow and sadness. But the following things I understand to be true.
Chris Cornell, of Soundgarden and Temple of the Dog, had struggled with depression and addiction for years. As devastating as it is, Chris’s is not an isolated or even an uncommon incident.
MotoGP World Champion, Nick Hayden was involved in a cycling accident in Rimini, Italy. In spite of the fact that he and his brothers raced motorcycles at blinding speeds (frequently well in excess of 200 MPH), this wasn’t what brought the premature end to his life. While training, Nick was senselessly and fatally hit by a car on his bicycle. As I know all too well, this is also not an isolated or uncommon event.
My dad. My dad was healthy, happy, and strong. Then he wasn’t. After a precautionary checkup ‘cuz “I’m just not feelin’ well.” my dad lost a pound a day…for 89 days…until he was gone. Cancer. Not an uncommon cause of death, but sudden and tragic, none the less.
The men, women, and children killed in the Manchester bombing were simply celebrating life. Then, in a vulnerable position, with their physical and emotional guards down, they were attacked in the most cowardly way. Unbelievably, these types of attacks are no longer isolated or uncommon. They will continue, and they will likely increase in frequency and severity until the entire world appreciates and adopts the highest level of social development: interdependence.
As Americans, we pride ourselves on our independence. But to what end? We’ve got to look beyond the egoistic point of independence, and finally, graduate to a position of true interdependence; one of relying on each other rather than fighting with or exploiting each other.
With all of that said, with a sincere effort to make sense of the sadness, I’m left with this almost rhetorical question,
“So what now?”
Initially, this may sound off-topic, but I promise…I’ll bring it back around again.
Both through watching TED talks, as well as listening to the Tim Ferriss podcast, I learned of an organization called “The Zen Hospice Project” in San Francisco. Their mission is as follows:
“Our mission is to help change the experience of dying and caregiving. We create space for living that offers the opportunity for individuals, their loved ones, and caregivers to find comfort, connection, and healing in this shared human experience. Through our pioneering model of care, we inspire each other to live fully.”
To paraphrase Zen Hospice Project’s founder, BJ Miller,
It’s not about the formal tending to of a diseased body, but what I see as a ringing in or a celebration of the end of one’s time on earth. Not in a sterile room full of latex gloves and beeping machines, but surrounded by loved ones and life and dreams and comfort and support…Ending with a Crescendo of Life.
The cases and stories that I’ve followed surrounding The Zen Hospice Project are as diverse as they are inspiring. They range from its founder’s life-changing (in fact, world-changing) experience of simply holding a melting snowball, to an ALS patient deciding to start smoking, to a terminal cancer patient’s stoic “Bucket List” trip down the Colorado River. The spirit of these stories and of these people are stern reminders that if we live with the fear of death then we are robbing ourselves of life.
Not long ago, I worked with a gentleman who was at the end of his professional career. He wasn’t looking to retire. He was just burned out wanted more from his life. He worked in real estate but he actually always wanted to be a pastor. But, as we say all too often, the time just never seemed right. At 60 years of age, he gave serious consideration to going back to school for 4 full years so he could pursue his dreams. He hesitated, postponed, and procrastinated, which ultimately lead to this brief but powerful conversation with a close friend and mentor.
Frank: “I haven’t registered for school yet. I just can’t bring myself to do it. It just seems unrealistic, maybe even irresponsible. Think about it. I’m going to be so old when graduate. Really? Am I supposed to do this?”
Mentor: “Frank. How old will you be in 4 years?”
Mentor: “And how old will you be in 4 years if you don’t go to school?”
This really hit me. At 53, but still feeling like I’m in my 20s, I’m excited to do what I want to do: to write, to raise and inspire my sons, to recognize that none of it matters if your health is in the toilet, and to embrace my failures rather than hide them.
Let me pose a few questions in hopes that you’ll join me somewhere down the rabbit hole:
What if you were told that you had only two weeks to live? Really! What would you do? Don’t read on. Pause and think about what you would do. Think about what matters; about who matters. What would Chris Cornell, or Nicky Hayden, or any of the numerous victims in Manchester do if they knew the end was so near?
What if you only had a day left to live? That’s all! If you were told that by this time tomorrow it would all end? What would you do? What matters to you, sincerely? Who would you spend that day with?
Now, finally, pushing that question to an absurd but thought-provoking end…what would you do if you only had now? What if this very moment was the last moment that you had? What matters to you now? Who matters to you now?
We don’t often think of this, nor act on it, but this is the case. This our only moment. This “now” all we have.
We can’t know when the end will come, but we always have “now.” Are you, like so many, unwittingly waiting ’til it’s too late before you really think about living, or better, take action? An equally disturbing and thought-provoking question (and something I’ve seen occur far too often) is, are you going to wait until you’re at the next funeral service before you stand up and share what you really feel about…a friend, your brother, your father, your spouse?
Why not share it now?
Why not live now. These are the good ol’ days! They’re the only days.
We all know that we can’t just quit our jobs and run off to the tropics with our loved ones to spend some long-overdue quality time together. And I’d never condone forsaking your responsibilities and obligations…unless, of course, it’s time to. I will, however, implore you not to wait. Don’t trade away another moment or opportunity to keep doing what you’re doing…if what you’re doing isn’t letting you live the life that you deserve.
Are you really going to trade life’s most important moments, our only moments, so you can work more to buy more stuff? Trade your time for money so you can afford to buy another designer handbag or another pair of shoes, or so you can upgrade your 55″ TV for an 85″ model? I promise that watching “The Bachelor” on a bigger TV can’t possibly be as fulfilling and empowering as working on that book you always wanted to write, or taking that road trip to see an old friend, or helping a neighbor with his math homework, or learning how to surf, or taking a leisurely stroll on a cold night with your spouse and warm coffee, or…just being.
To quote Eleanor Roosevelt, “The purpose of life is to live it, to taste experience to the utmost, to reach out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.”
Again, sitting here with a bit of a tender heart, after experiencing and seeing so much loss and so much pain, amidst a pandemic and what I hope is a civil rights revolution, I encourage you to live…to be your absolute best. Look inside at what truly makes you shine, then go do that. You will become the richest “you” possible, and those you love; those around you, well…they will reap the rewards of your journey.