I find the older I get, the better I seem to see. I’m not talking about my eyesight…I finally had to get bifocals last year. What I’m talking about is real vision: how I see the world, and what I believe that I understand about it.
I don’t remotely have it all figured out; I still feel like I’m picking my way through life in a dense fog. But each year the fog lifts a little, and I feel like I see a little more clearly. And those things that I can now see better may seem obvious to many, but they’ve been hard-won lessons for me:
• Nothing is more important than my relationship with others, except my relationship with God.
• Most people are good.
• Dogs are love.
• Exercise and brush your teeth religiously.
• Material things mean nothing except for the memories that some of them help us hold onto.
• Grow a garden.
• Eat at home.
• Prayers are answered.
• Miracles happen.
• I’m worthy of love.
What do you now see more clearly?
“Worship is a way of seeing the world in the light of God.” –Abraham Joshua Heschel
I’m generally a good sleeper, but I had an unusual experience Thursday night that I can’t shake. When I awoke in the middle of the night, an odd question popped into my head: “Another week of my life nearly gone, what did I accomplish?” I had helped a couple of friends on job searches. I had several meaningful conversations with the girls, always a victory with teenagers. And I visited my parents. A good week, is what flashed through my head in the dark, but not terribly impactful, leading instantly to a more difficult question: “How do you wish you’d been able to answer?” The. Silence. Was. Deafening.
All through my life, I’ve asked myself the question that I assume most of us ask ourselves…what should I be doing with my life? A difficult question to be sure, but one which hasn’t been distressing to not be able to answer. It’s been easy to let myself off the hook with that one. I mean, who expects to know what they’re supposed to do with their whole life, after all. But a single week? Not having that answer was astonishing.
Of course, the irony is that our lives are made up of individual weeks and days and moments. As an organizer and planner, I am fully aware that not having near-term goals makes it less likely that I’ll achieve my longer-term ones. Yet for some reason, I’d never thought about breaking down the enormous meaning-of-life goal into achievable chunks. I don’t even know where to start. But it seems important enough to start figuring out.
“A year from now, you will wish you had started today.” –Karen Lamb
Jamil Mahuad, the ex-president of Ecuador who brought peace with Peru, said we are each obligated to be our unique selves. He believes that everyone has a couple of things in life that only we can do, and if we do not play our part, then who will?
What a wonderful thought! It’s reassuring that it’s ok to be myself. At work, at school, at home, we all face constant pressure to fit others’ ideas of who we should be. This pressure is manageable for most of us most of the time, but it drains our energy, whether or not we give in…and we all do at times. At one point earlier in my career, I actually changed the way I dressed to the “team uniform” of khaki pants and denim shirt, in a futile attempt to fit into a cliquish group. I know how ridiculous that sounds now, and it didn’t work. Some of you may remember me then…did I seem happy? I wasn’t again until I moved to a team which allowed me to be myself, though the new group had spectacular problems of its own.
But Mr. Mahaud’s primary point is truly awesome: it had never occurred to me that there’s a short list of things which I, and only I, am supposed to accomplish. What a wonderful discovery process I have ahead of me to find them! At mid-life, I have my suspicions by now as to what a couple of them may be, but I’m also guessing that some of them are too far down the horizon yet to see. We all want to make a difference, and we all need hope: hope that tomorrow will be better, hope that our failings can be turned around. My hope is that I have a unique purpose…things that I’m supposed to do that matter somehow. I simply need to focus on being the me that I am supposed to be.
“To thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, thou canst not then be false to any man.” –William Shakespeare
I’ve believed for years that my happiness is driven primarily from within. I’ve known it just as firmly as I know that eating broccoli is good for me. Except that I don’t eat broccoli. I’ve known it, but I haven’t lived it.
This relearned lesson has hit me particularly squarely these last few weeks, as we’ve been returning to normal following Megan’s illness. Amazingly, I’d been able to find an unexpected peace in the middle of the nearly overwhelming fear and stress, a peace I’d never known except during times of great happiness. When your life is stripped down to the bare essentials–faith, and an intense focus on the here and now with those you love–the small daily stresses fall away, and joy can be found in nearly any moment. In fact, the strongest sign that I was emotionally recovering was, ironically, that the daily frustrations were back. I was not happy with their return.
As I’ve resettled into my life, I’ve marveled at how I lost this daily stress during the toughest period of my life. It is no great mystery how: I was focused on what truly mattered, and so much of what makes us miserable simply doesn’t. I think we all know this on some level, but it’s so easy to forget. Well, I don’t ever want to forget again. What a huge loss it would be to lose this hard-won lesson and be less happy now that we’re all home…together, healthy…than when we were living in the hospital. My family deserves better. I deserve better. I will let go of the small stuff. I will seize happiness from the jaws of distress.
“It is not easy to find happiness in ourselves, and it is not possible to find it elsewhere.” –Agnes Repplier