Life is too short to constantly ponder the thoughts of others concerning me or my actions. I spent a great deal of my youth obsessed with what others thought of me and trying to meet the approval of my peers. Whatever was considered “status quo” at that moment was my ultimate goal. Obviously, with the fickleness of society I had quite a balancing act trying to keep up with ever-changing definitions of a socially acceptable behavior. That’s why I decided some years back that I would no longer live my life dictated by the whims of others.
My wife’s sudden yet lengthy battle with breast cancer was a catalyst in this change. I had watched a grandfather and grandmother slowly succumb to this disease and could not believe that I would be forced to participate in this gruesome ordeal once again. My wife maintained a genuinely positive attitude throughout the entire process, even until her death, accepting that this is how life is dealt to some of us. She refused to allow others to pity her and realized that she had the same options as before – the same options each of us is afforded on a daily basis – the choice to live or die. The choice to embrace each moment and truly suck the marrow from the bone of life or to curl up and suffocate in one’s self-pity, angered about circumstances beyond one’s control. Truly none of us is guaranteed even the next breath. My wife chose to look at the situation this way, “I could walk out the door and be struck and killed by a bus before this cancer does me in. However, I will most likely die from this disease. The big question is, ‘When?’. Since I don’t know the answer to that question with cancer any more than I know the answer to it with a bus, I choose not to ponder it.” And thus, she lived her life daily, never focused on tomorrow or next month, but today.
When we knew there was no longer any hope of recovery, I wanted to take her someplace grand for our final vacation together. She had always wanted to sail the Greek isles so I set about making travel arrangements. My wife had other ideas and quickly set me straight regarding the wishes of a dying woman. “I don’t want to go there anymore,” she said, flatly. “I always did before, but now I realize how fleeting that experience will be. I would much prefer sitting on my porch swing and watching my children playing in the yard. I would rather feel the warm Texas breeze on my face and enjoy the familiarities of home and family. Personally, I would just be tickled to death to be able to push my own shopping cart down the aisles of Wal-Mart one more time.” So, needless to say, we did not go to Greece.
I learned so much from her in those eighteen months. Where once she had looked to me for wisdom and guidance, I now found myself gleaning much deeper knowledge from her than I could have ever reasoned. Such is the way with death. It is a much more efficient teacher than life. Alas, most of us who are witness to its ravages miss the simple truths that death imparts. Indeed, the recognition of the brevity of life is most certainly the greatest truth any of us can fathom from the death of a loved one. But so few come away with any real appreciation for what death has shown them.
For me, the death of my beloved 29-year-old wife was not a time to focus on the pain and heartache but on the joy and whimsy of life. We found more to laugh at in those months than ever before. I find myself a much more lighthearted man, content with myself for the first time in my life. My friends and family have noted the changes in my character and personality. I have come to realize that much of what we place in high esteem is vanity and greed. The times with my friends and family have such significance to me now. I could care less about pomp and circumstance. Quiet times alone or with close friends are valuable. Times sharing these sorts of thoughts and musings on the meaning of life bring me great comfort and enrichment.
It is a shame to see individuals so consumed with getting ahead of the game that they fail to realize life isn’t a game at all. I am amazed almost daily at the audacity of some people in their judgments of others based on societal expectations. The assumption that one must be like everyone else in order to be normal or right is ludicrous. The conception of a “list” of rights and wrongs to which one must adhere in order to maintain the respect and/or acceptance of the rest of society makes me laugh. It’s all really simple actually – the “Secret to Life”, that is. The answer to the question is, “Love.” I know, it’s so cliché and mundane. But if people would stop giving it lip service and actually give it some leg time we would be amazed by the results.
To actually live life with love in one’s heart is a difficult task. To step up to the plate and pitch love when the other team, maybe even the rest of your team, is touting self, and possessions, and status is truly a challenge. I have found, however, that when I take a stand and argue in favor of love and kindness I am not greeted by hostility and anger but by utter confusion and surprise. People have forgotten how to be nice to one another. And I’m not talking about sugar-coated bullshit, either. No one wants to be patronized and molly-coddled. I’m speaking of genuine care and concern for others that comes through protecting the weak and speaking up for the silent. Love is asking someone, “How’re ya doin’?” and actually listening to the reply. Getting down in the midst of life and seeing where people are and being involved is the key.
Gather a group of friends around you and demonstrate this type of love on a regular and consistent basis and you will be amazed at the changes that begin to take place in your circle. There is no need to go out and revolutionize the world – instead reach out to the small sphere of influence you have already – family and friends. Genuine love is infectious and will spread. And if the only people you reach are those few you have done what is expected – love your neighbor – and by so doing you have loved God. And, for God’s sake, don’t take everything so damn seriously – none of us is getting out alive.