One of the saddest ironies of life, is that we have a tendency to bide our time waiting for our lives to begin. On how many occasions have you said to yourself, I just need to…, and then everything will be better? When we do finally get to that place, it’s not as though our life magically kicks into gear and hums along peacefully. Life is what happens in the little spaces between those landmarks—It’s the time we spend in the sea waiting to get to the shore. I would even go so far as to argue that the time we spend thrashing in the water is where all the beauty of life exists. It’s when we often feel alone and when our mettle is tested.
There have been some unifying strands in my writing over the past six months as I’ve struggled with trying to be more present and to build more authentic relationships with people I care about. One of the things I’ve discovered is that I’ve brought these two themes to a lot of what I’ve read during this period. However, it wasn’t until I was working my way through Arianna Huffington’s book Thrive that I started to feel as though all these thoughts percolating in my mind finally coalesced.
Ms. Huffington raises a thought-provoking question early in the book when she asks: "Have you noticed that when we die, our eulogies celebrate our lives differently from the way society defines success?…Our eulogies are always about the other stuff: what we gave, how we connected, how much we meant to our family and friends, small kindnesses, lifelong passions, and the things that made us laugh.”
There is so much packed into those few lines that I not only identify with but also feel immensely anxious about. To be perfectly honest, I have a knot in my stomach when I think about all the time I’ve frittered away trying to get to that “shore” instead of acknowledging the presence and weight of all that water around me. What really hits home is how I’ve subjected myself to my own distorted definition of “success”. With the value I place on acquiring possessions, status, and praise, it’s no wonder I have such a difficult time quieting my mind. There is a lot of misspent frenetic activity wasted in the pursuit of transitory happiness, especially when I accept that none of this will be my legacy.
I feel gutted when I think about my father—a man who battled addiction, a man who raised two children on his own after my mother left, a man who was incapable of sitting still and having a conversation—Cancer took him at the age of 60, and right up until his last breath, he was convinced that his legacy had everything to do with his financial net worth, his ability to claw his way out of a poor French Canadian household and build a middle class life in Anglophone Toronto. I had just turned 20 when he was diagnosed with terminal cancer, and as is the case with most young adults, I was too self-absorbed and utterly incapable of telling my father what he meant to me. The shame that he felt having his wife leave him, I as a young boy saw only as courage and commitment. His fear of alcohol that brought him to his knees when he was younger and his eventual abstinence left him feeling socially awkward. Today, now that I too am 17 years clean and sober, I don’t see a legacy of fearful man, but one of a man with character and fortitude that few in this world ever get the opportunity to demonstrate.
I need to remind myself that it’s never too late to build my eulogy today! I have to get better at acknowledging the pockets of wisdom hidden in the relentless torrent of the mundaneness of a life punctuated by fleeting moments of bliss. Instead of possessions, I want to chase passions. Instead of consumption, my goal will be connection. As the Buddha said, “In the end, only three things matter: how much you loved, how greatly you lived, and how gracefully you let go of things not meant for you.”