On Wednesday, I received some very sad news from a friend who recently received a grim health diagnosis—like 3-to-5-years-left-to-live diagnosis. As we spoke, what struck me most about his accounting of what’s happening in his life right now is his unshakable gratitude. ‘I’d be a lot more upset if I’d spent the last 30 years of my life at a desk,’ he joked. He admitted that he has moments when he feels scared, but went on to reflect how he’s seen and experienced so much in the world, all over the world, done work that he loves, and on his own terms, and that he sees his remaining years as a gift.
We made a promise to get together as soon as we are each back from upcoming travels.
The very next day, two weeks out from our second COVID-19 vaccines, Shawn and I drove up to visit his parents and hug them for the first time in over a year. And to have dinner with them in their house! Wow! Another tremendous upheaval of emotions and gratitude.
And we also made a promise to them to get together as soon as we are back from upcoming travels.
There is a clock ticking on the wall for every single one of us. Most of us live our lives most of the time as if there is no such clock. We eat poorly. We hold petty grudges. We do work that we don’t enjoy. We stay in places or in relationships or in situations that don’t fulfill us. We scroll through social media and the news, seeking out elation and outrage.
In this way of living, death is something that happens to other people, but not to us.
Then the phone rings with bad news, and the world grows quiet, except for that clock, which suddenly is the loudest sound in the world.
In that relative quiet, we can instantly see the ways in which we have wasted time and energy. ‘Why did I do/say/not do/not say x-y-z?’ It reminds me of that moment when you wake up from a dream that seems bizarre once you’re awake, but seemed ordinary while you were dreaming it, because somehow you understood everything in the strange world you were just inhabiting. You were beyond thoughts. You were just experiencing things as they arose, and then the bubble burst and you were suddenly and seamlessly experiencing something else entirely—being wide awake in your bed in the ‘real world’—and then were immediately flooded by familiar thoughts and judgments and emotions…
… until the next time you are shaken awake by the awareness of what is most true of anyone or anything—that everything that arises also passes away. Hugs, tears, dreams, promises, friends, life itself.
Impossible as it seems after this past year, I’m getting on an airplane this coming Friday morning with three of the dearest people in my world and heading out to California for almost two weeks. We’re all fully vaccinated, and we have decided not to stay home and worry about whether the vaccine has done the necessary work in our bodies to protect us and others from the ravages of this coronavirus. We’re listening to that ticking clock, to that pop of the bubble, that says:
This is the only life of which you can be certain, so go out into the world and plant the seeds of your songs and your work wherever you’re invited to do so, make and keep your promises to those you love as best as you can, and give the world your care and your gratitude while you have the time.
Is there anything else?