Life is short…are you LIVING?
This may not seem like a post on the typical topics of social skills, character, school reform at first. But I think, by the end, you’ll see where I’m going with this.
A really shocking reality came at me this past weekend. I was visiting a steady client, whose Board Members I have seen a come to know fairly well, for over four years now. On Saturday, I learned that one of them, a founding member had suddenly passed away just a few months ago. This is, frankly, the second time that I’ve been hit over the head with a completely unexpected death in the past few months. Both times, the news left me completely gobsmacked. (Yes, that is the ideal word for my reaction…)
In this case, I had really gotten to know the gentleman (I’ll call him Richard) quite well. He was an amazing man, generous like you wouldn’t believe, full of joy, full of life. Along with his wife, he co-founded the organization I was visiting. They were frequent and generous donors to many charitable organizations, and both had offered their talents, their home, their energy to these causes. And, with his wife, Richard was a genuine, authentic, and overall NICE guy. He is one of those who shouldn’t go, much less before his time. He was only 51, but he died living his life to the fullest.
Essentially he experienced a heart attack while learning to scuba dive. His physician had advised against it because he did suffer from some heart issues. But, he felt the risk wasn’t too great so he pursued the sport he loved.
I am deeply in shock, as are so many who came to know him, especially those with whom he had regular contact. His passing has given me a lot to think about. Certainly none of us knows when our time is up, and there are limitless sayings about how to live today like you’re going to die tomorrow. But how many of us actually DO it? Face it, there are obligations that must be met. Clients have to be seen, bills have to be paid. The kids have activities; we adults have commitments. How has time to “live” when we are so busy “existing?”
And, THAT, it at the heart of the problem. To really shed some light on it, let me tell you what occurred the day after I learned about Richard’s death. I attended a “pizza party” on a local island farm. The host is known not only for his amazingly fresh produce, but for the enormous brick and granite pizza oven he has built in his yard. Here he throws pizza parties for groups and individuals, with ingredients picked just fresh off the farm that day. Potatoes, fava beans, goat cheese from local sources, a green specialty sauce that they make up from whatever’s fresh picked that day, pesto from local basil and chard. In short, it’s gourmet, wood-fired pizza at its very best. And the flavors are to die for! Your mouth literally explodes with one taste sensation after another. This is the “living” part of eating. Most of us are used to taking the quick and expedient way out when it comes to food. We don’t have time to cook a real dinner because we’re so busy trying to get the kids off to sports practice. Fast food, “frozen modules,” take-out…we have learned to rely on it for convenience, but at the cost of our enjoyment.
I’m using food as a metaphor because I am a foodie at heart, but because it’s something we can generally relate to. I’ve long since come to appreciate food for all its flavor, but since Saturday I’ve thought about this even more. I’d rather eat only one, really well-cooked farm fresh eggs than 3 ordinary store-bought varieties (I’ll still bake with these, though!). I’d rather have a few small slices of excellent wood-fired pizza with highly-flavorable toppings than a large amount of frozen pepperoni (and do you know that studies show we eat LESS when we eat better and more flavorful food?)
Look at this issue from a time perspective. Where do we use our time? Do we spend it on things that matter, than improve our quality of life, that give us joy and fulfillment? Or do we fritter our time away on things that don’t mean anything? Are we building valuable relationships with people, really trying to get to know them and connect, or do we see people as “units” that serve a particular role or purpose and we don’t make much effort to learn more? Getting connected with what matters to YOU is one of the first steps of living. I’ve done a few things this week already that I kept putting off, then realizing it was “too late” to do it this season, this year. I said, “phooey” and decided to do it NOW…’cause I don’t know if I’ll have tomorrow or if the ones I wanted to share it with would as well.
Multi-tasking is another brain- and life-drainer, I think. We have gotten so good at getting so much done, that we probably don’t realize how half-baked we are doing things. How many times have we answered our child’s question while we are still typing an email message, thinking we’ve deftly done two things at once, but in reality we didn’t really give either the child or our message the focus and courtesy due them? We talk on the phone, while making dinner; we text at the same time we are “carrying on a conversation” with friends. What’s wrong with just being present, taking a moment and experiencing a quality interaction rather than something squeezed in because we can?
Time slips away too fast. For some, like Richard, much more quickly than it should have. At least, as I said, he died while he was living his life the way he wanted. I hope that when it’s my turn, friends can say the same of me. I have to take steps now to ensure that that’s the case. I believe there is more to life than what happens between managing crises. As I try to offer quality to others, I have to provide quality for myself. Thank you, Richard for teaching me this lesson. I only wish you were around for me to tell you what I learned from you.