The Secret of Life is Easy
The best time to think about life is at the point of death. I know it may sound like an oxymoron--a contrast of opposites, but in the midst of the darkness of death comes the light of life. From the dead of winter springs forth the energy of a splendid spring. From the deafening sensation of noise comes the calm of silence.
Yesterday, I experienced the death of my father-in-law, a great man with a wide smile, bursts of infectious laughter, and a generous heart. He served his family well and honorably providing care and comfort with heaping measures of wisdom and wit. He was a storyteller, a lover of the underdog in sports, and a friend with a steadfast devotion. His departure leaves a void that will be felt for some time, but I hope his memories will fill that space with a sweet comfort for my mother-in-law.
I witnessed his dead body in the living room of his home as his family surrounded him in a circle of love. Stories were regaled about his life, his love, and his legacy. I reflected on my first encounter with this bear-hugging man and the happy whistle he tooted as he worked in his garage. My reflections of Papa lead me to reflections of others who have traveled skyward before him--my aunt and uncle, my beloved grandparents, dear friends, and even pets. I sensed life and vitality in the memories that encouraged me to be ever hopeful for the days ahead.
Here is where I wax philosophically. Life is really quite simple. Here is the recipe: 1 part of time mixed with two parts of love and sprinkled with heaping measures of forgiveness and understanding. John Donne a seventeenth-century poet said, "No man is an island entire of himself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main." We do not live in isolation and for our own interests; our words and actions influence and reflect upon others. We need each other more than we realize or may care to admit. Donne concludes by saying, "And therefore, never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee." Each person's life and death touches us because we share connections we cannot deny. We all share the same destiny.
A twentieth-century poet, Max Ehrmann wrote about the duality of our collective humanity and our individuality in the poem Desiderata:
"GO PLACIDLY amid the noise and the haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even to the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story."
Here are the key terms: be on good terms with all, speak our truth, and listen to others' stories.
Still, a third way to view our human connection is in the graveyard scene of It's a Wonderful Life -- again, we see the juxtaposition of life and death. Clarence Oddbody, Angel Second-Class, explains to George Bailey his life's purpose: "Strange, isn't it? Each man's life touches so many other lives. When he isn't around he leaves an awful hole, doesn't he?" And to these questions, Clarence confirms the validity of every life: "See George, you really had a wonderful life. Don't you see what a mistake it would be to just throw it all away?" We each are given the opportunity of our lifetimes to make a positive impact, to leave a legacy of humanness that speaks of compassion and connection.
Of course, once George sees where he fits into the grand design of life, he wants to live again. When he returns to his life from that desolate existential limbo, he joyfully embraces the mess and the struggles of living that he had previously wanted to escape. He cheers for his busted lip, his broken car, and his pile of financial worries. "Hurray!" he shouts, "I am alive!!"
Most people view this film as a Christmas story, but I recommend watching it whenever someone feels lost in life. It is a better tonic than any anti-depressant, mood stabilizer, or CBD oil, and I dare you not to cheer and cry along with George. I am already laughing and crying just looking at these photos.
I will close with my favorite lyrical philosopher--JT, not Justin Timberlake, but James Taylor. I know I am dating myself, but perhaps retro soft-rock will make a comeback and be cool. I can only hope! In his song, "The Secret of Life," James sings, "The secret of life is enjoying the passage of time/ Any fool can do it/There ain't nothing to it." He goes on to reveal a second secret: "The secret of love is in opening up your heart/It's okay to feel afraid/But don't let that stand in your way/'Cause anyone knows that love is the only road." It is a simple equation: enjoy time + open up your heart = life. Love is the road we always want to take each day we set our feet on the floor.
I wish you well as you use these secrets to life, love, and happiness. Do not throw your life away. Instead, give it away generously with a heart that knows you will gain the richest treasures--time well-spent feeling all the humanness you are.
Peace and joy.