Start Again


The statement seems simple when you first look at it, but over the years I have discovered it is very complex. This has been the basis of my personal philosophy of life since 1994. When it first entered my consciousness I thought I had it all figured out. This was the answer. This was the meaning of life.

Give everything you can to everyone you know.
All those who exist are unique, independent universes with their own truths and their own realities.
Understand and accept this and you will know the answer.

This was the full text of what entered my consciousness as I passed from life into death and back again. There was more, but these three lines were what repeated over and over to make sure I would remember. The repetition of the phrases was done in such a way that I would remember verbatim, for any changing of the words altered their meaning. This, I was told, is the meaning of life. This is the answer everyone is supposedly looking for. Does it make sense? Yes, but it begs to be interpreted and accepts a variety of interpretations. It tells me there are no absolutes. There is individual reality and there is a collective reality. Mingling our individual reality with the collective reality allows for acceptance. Stepping too far outside what is accepted as collective reality sends you off to the group home for medication and therapy.

Give everything you can to everyone you know.

Define "everything." Well, you really can't except to say it is all things. Can you really give away everything that you have, to empty yourself onto the laps of others? No. That is why "everything" does not stand alone.

Give everything you can to everyone you know.

This is where matters begin to get complicated. You are able to cut off your left arm and hand it to the guy at the toll booth. Well, you can if you are able to stand a lot of pain, but it is possible. It makes no sense to do this. He probably doesn't want your left arm and you probably need it for something. "Everything you can" is more related to giving what you are able to give without losing sight of yourself.

Say someone needs your help. Their life is falling to pieces and they are an emotional wreck. You are a strong person who has dealt with troubled friends before and have been able to see them over rough seas. You are able to help this person. If you are able to help, you must help them. However, say the tide changes. They aren't letting you help them. They are getting more and more distraught. Your attempts to help are seen by them as personal attacks. They turn on you and attack you in kind because they see this as a way to defend themselves from your perceived attacks. You are no longer able to help them. It has unraveled and turned into a war of words and unkindnesses on both sides of the fence. If you continue to try to help and they see your efforts as an attack, their perception is what matters. You pull out. You are no longer able to give in this situation. What you are trying to give is not accepted and is interpreted as something else. To continue to give is futile and counterproductive. It is time to pull out.

When what you are giving is taking too much out of you and threatens to destabilize you, then you are trying to give more than you are capable of. If you allow yourself to be drained of energy you will have less to give others. If you allow one or more experiences to make you cynical, then you have given more than you were capable of and it has made you less than who you were. This is giving more than you are capable of giving. To open yourself to others is often rewarding but sometimes dangerous. A martyr is only as good as the value of that for which he or she made the sacrifice.

Give everything you can to everyone you know.

This is complicated on several levels and can be seen in many ways. Who do we really know? Are we talking about those we have intimate knowledge of? Are we talking about friends and family? Are we talking about everyone we meet, right down to the crazy guy in the fedora at the bus stop?

In my experience with death, the first thing I saw after collapsing and passing on was an overgrown jungle river. There were many people on the shore calling to me. Some I recognized and some I did not. Most of the time I use this as the measuring stick for "everyone you know." More recently this website provided a new measuring stick. There are people here I feel that I "know" and yet that is based on reading their contributions here and brief messages back and forth. When you sit down and think about it, there are more people that you know than just those you really know well. The statement doesn't say "everyone you know really well." It says "everyone you know."

Give everything you can to everyone you know.

Yeah, it can be broken apart into two different sentences. That isn't too important. You can, however, do what you know. The key component to me has always been an advisory against withholding. When we see someone broken down on the side of the road, struggling and obviously frustrated with the status of their vehicle, what do we do? If we are mechanically inclined, do we stop and offer a helping hand? What if we have a cell phone in our car? Do we stop and ask if they might need to call a tow truck or a friend? More often than not we drive right by and figure someone else will stop. Or we mutter to ourselves, "What a dumbass."

There are lessons to be learned. I used to drive right past people whose cars had let them down. I never thought twice about it. Then, in 1999 I was on my way home from work. My Honda was a reliable car that four months before had been gone over completely by my mechanic. I was in the midst of a bankrupcy and had no access to cash or credit cards in the event of an emergency. There are gory details, but it is best to just say the engine blew and I was fifty miles from home. I had to push my car half a mile to get it onto a side street and out of the road. It was a two lane road with no shoulder. It was midnight and there were no street lights. A Camaro clipped my hip, as I had to push and steer at the same time. No one stopped to help but dozens of cars drove by. Then I walked two miles to find a phone.

In more recent times I have stopped and asked people if there is anything I might be able to do. I helped an older woman change a flat tire. I drove a guy to a phone to call a tow truck. A few months ago, the shift cable snapped in my Saturn three blocks from my apartment. Once again I was in the middle of a two lane road with no shoulder. I began pushing. A fire truck appeared out of nowhere. Three firemen jumped out and told me to get in and steer while the fire truck cruised behind us with its lights flashing. They pushed me to my street. I tried to thank them, but they had already jumped back into the fire truck and gone off into the night.

Some people call that "karma." I call it the natural order of things. It is what happens when people follow the words. "Give everything you can to everyone you know." I didn't have to help that woman change her tire, but I could and I did. The firemen didn't have to help me push my car, but they could and they did.

Sometimes the people we know are just fellow travelers on the road.
Sometimes the road is literal and sometimes it isn't.
There are people out there you can give something to.
There are hundreds of excuses not to.


Then you start to see how powerful darkness really is.