Posts tagged ‘death’

October 14, 2016

Just a dash, yet so much more

At a recent performance by the Kyiv Symphony Orchestra and Chorus in my town, orchestra conductor and artistic director Dr. Wes Janzen spoke these words:

On your grave marker, there will be a birth date and a death date. Then there is a dash. That dash is your life.

Wow. Those words drove home for me how short life really is — as short as the dash that sits between the birth and death dates on a gravestone.

Dr. Janzen’s words made me realize how little of “your life” others will see of you when you’re gone: that dash doesn’t communicate any of your joys, achievements or successes. It ignores the obstacles you overcame. It disregards how your smile lit up a room; how you taught kids to play the piano, baked drool-worthy goodies for friends, or fixed people’s cars for free. That dash doesn’t convey any of the depth of your experience. It doesn’t recognize your contribution to the world, to your family and friends, to your community.

This might all sound a bit depressing, but in another sense, it’s empowering. My life truly is my own to make of it what I want. No one cares about the outcome — the substance of that dash — except for me, and possibly some of the people around me. So the best thing to do is live my life according to my own principles and passions, and to share the results of that process with my friends, family and community.

True, my life might be a mere blip on the radar of the larger world, but it can leave a lasting and meaningful mark on the lives of the people around me. I can be a teacher, an inspiration, a confidante, a buddy to laugh with, a shoulder to lean on, a superstar volunteer, a person who always picks up the phone and says, “yes, that’s great, let’s do it!” The people on the receiving or collaborating ends of all this will share the depths of their experiences with the depth of mine, and maybe that is enough.

March 9, 2016

What’s your “Code of Life”?

By what principles do you choose to live your life?

When author and woodworker Spike Carlsen lost his 58-year-old father to a heart attack, Spike found this “Code of Life” scrawled on a piece of paper tucked at the back of his father’s desk drawer. It’s a simple man’s personal promise to live an honest and fulfilling life. And it’s good incentive for you create your own touchstone for a life well lived.

“Code of Life”

Let me achieve and hold fast to:

  • An awareness that my problems and successes are gnatlike in another’s eyes.
  • Simplification. The will to do it now.
  • Seeing the best in others and ignoring idle criticism about them.
  • Honesty with others, even though I may deceive myself.
  • Never taking myself seriously, but only my job.
  • Some personal privacy and respect for the same in others.
  • Recognition of substance from trivia and fighting only for the former.
  • The ability to laugh with others.
  • A few friends who share these views.

(From Cabin Lessons by Spike Carlsen)

November 25, 2014

“Rebirth is a resource of life”

In Carol Drinkwater’s memoir The Olive Farm, she and her partner wait out a week of heavy rains inside their ramshackle old villa on their olive farm in the south of France. When the skies finally clear, Drinkwater walks her terraces to take stock of the damage and – to her surprise – the rejuvenation that now mark the land. One particular sight takes her breath away:

The orange trees, dead as mummies when we bought the house [a year ago] and which we have watched creeping back to life throughout the summer months, are now sharp, five feet tall, brilliant green spheres of life. And, what is more miraculous to me, they are laden with round green balls. Minuscule oranges.

Such renascence hardly seems possible. I close my eyes. I store that fact that rebirth is a resource of life. . . . Some creeping shadow warns me that I will need to keep it in mind.

Rebirth is a resource of life. How beautiful and how true. The earth is resilient. Nature is resilient. We are resilient. Even from a point of hopelessness, from an appearance of atrophy or extinction, we can bounce back to health and brilliance. All that is needed are time and proper care.

Never give up on anything, or anyone. Never judge a landscape, or a person, by its outward appearance. What lies beneath and within is a dazzling energy that may soon burst forth again.

March 1, 2014

March challenge: Live as if you were dying

What if someone told you that you had only one month left to live? What would you do with the time remaining to you? Would you do things differently to how you’re doing them now?

This month, I challenge you to make a list of the things you would do if you had only one month left to live. Then, pick three things from this list and do them before the month is out.

We never know how much time is given to us in this life. Let’s do our best to make the most of what we’ve got.

November 30, 2013

Book Recommendation – “Finding Jim” by Susan Oakey-Baker

On April 30, 1999, Susan Oakey-Baker lost her mountaineer husband, Jim Haberl, to an avalanche on Mount Ultima Thule, Alaska. Finding Jim is Oakey-Baker’s incredibly candid story of her journey through the grief that followed. Oakey-Baker hides nothing about the intensity of her struggles to make sense of the tragedy and “do well” in the aftermath. Her writing is honest, unapologetic and deeply poignant, the emotions sometimes so raw and present that they seem to well up from within your own body. If you have ever “lost” a loved one (in any sense of the word), this book will speak to aspects of your experience. Oakey-Baker has bravely put herself “out there” in a way most people don’t, and the result is an intensely beautiful testament to both the messy complexity of human feeling, and the resilience within each of us to finally accept and move on.

Cover image of the book "Finding Jim" by Susan Oakey-Baker

“Finding Jim” by Susan Oakey-Baker

October 1, 2013

October challenge: Reach out (In memory of a lost friend)

This month’s challenge is in memory of my friend Anita, who took her own life at the end of August.

This October, I challenge you to reach out to someone you know who may be going though a difficult time. Even if that person seems fine on the outside, reach out anyway; they may be hurting more than you know inside. Even if that person doesn’t ask for help, reach out anyway; they may not know how to ask for support, or they may not think themselves worthy of it. Reach out even if they don’t want you to do so. Reach out even if you think it silly or unnecessary or far too intrusive. Make that phone call, make that visit, give that hug, speak that kind word of support or encouragement. Share your own dark moments, if you are comfortable doing so, to help that person see that they are not alone in what they are experiencing, and that there is hope for the future. Reach out in any way you can, however small. In the end, your single act of caring may be the one thing that pulls that person back from the brink of despair, back onto the road of life.

Peace be with you, Anita. The world is less bright without you in it.

September 24, 2013

Calendar girl

I love this verse from the song Calendar Girl by the Canadian band Stars:

I can’t live forever
I can’t always be
One day I’ll be sand on a beach by the sea
The pages keep turning
I’ll mark off each day with a cross
And I’ll laugh about all that we’ve lost.

September 10, 2013

Make mud pies with the people you love while you still can

Have you told your loved ones that you care lately? Have you hugged your mother, your brother, your father, your partner, your kids? We sometimes forget that the time we have with the loved ones in our lives is a precious gift, a limited-time arrangement only, and that the days, hours, minutes and seconds could elapse suddenly, much sooner than we think.

Writer Stephen Hume’s essay “The Gift” really hits this idea at heart. In the essay, Hume describes how he nearly lost his three-year-old daughter to a drowning incident on the beach near their home in coastal British Columbia. She was playing by the water; he looked away for a moment to talk to a friend. Had he not turned back around when he did — and seen his daughter’s tiny hand extend up from a swirl in the ocean — he would have lost her. Later that night, as the intensity of the experience sank in, Hume remembered how only a few days earlier he had gotten angry with his daughter because she had swamped her gumboots in a puddle and stuffed “mud pies” in her jacket pocket.

Writes Hume:

We spend so much of our lives on cruise control, sweeping along in the comfortable bubble of our assumptions. . . . We assume we’ll see our friends again, that wives and husbands and kids will come home as they always do. And so we indulge ourselves in the petty tyrannies of parenthood and marriage, the nagging and squabbling over trivia, the evaded visits, the family bickering and the occasional grumpiness that comes of relationships we take for granted. . . .

We can’t — and shouldn’t — live our lives in constant fear of the worst that can happen. But we should switch off the cruise control and live each day as though the ones we most love will not be with us for another.

So hug a loved one today. Call a family member and say that you care. Or kneel in the yard and make mud pies with your daughter. You never know, says Hume, when the bridge between you and that person will be replaced by an abyss.

(Stephen Hume’s essay “The Gift” appears in his 2010 anthology A Walk with the Rainy Sisters: In Praise of British Columbia’s Places.)

August 2, 2013

Instructions for life (#1): Do the things you love NOW

Do the things you love now, because you never know when the possibility or the ability to do those things will be taken away from you. As improbable or impossible as it may seem to you in this moment, you could very well wake up tomorrow and find yourself unable to write, sing, run, speak, walk, swim, go outside, dance, see, hold your children, or what have you. Do the things you love now, while you have the ability to do them. Don’t waste this time, for it is a time-limited gift, and it will not be available to you forever.

Prioritize the things you love above all else. There is little point in frittering away the time that you do have on lesser activities or pursuits. Do only the things that give you true joy, do them often, and do them whole-heartedly. Do not feel guilty about this. This is your life, after all, and the best way to spend it is in doing the things that make you feel the most happy.

Remember that even if you are forced to give up some crucial part of your life because of circumstances beyond your control, you will survive the loss. You will. There are other parts of yourself, as yet explored, waiting to be shown the light. The old parts of you will live on in fond memory, and the new parts will carry you forward into the future.

There are many chapters in your book of life. Not all chapters will be easy or fun to read, but all chapters will be meaningful. Live each chapter fully, while it is before you, because eventually — perhaps at a moment you least expect or desire — that chapter will close for good, leaving you with an entirely different set of words and sentences from which to compose your path and craft your identity.

July 24, 2013

Choose wisely, and choose with all your heart

I have always liked this lyric from the song “Free” by First Time Fallen:

Guaranteed to live and die,
Our choice is what we do in between.

So many of us fritter away that time in between, afraid to do or try the things that really speak to us, really matter to us.

Don’t be one of those people. What speaks to you? What matters to you? Do it. Do it now. There is absolutely no better time than right now. Trust me. Waiting until you have more money or a better job or a (different) partner or a house or more free time won’t make things any easier for you, and it won’t improve your chances of success one bit. It really won’t. Now is the time. Start. Just take one step. You can do it. You absolutely can. I believe in you.