I actually do not know where to begin. Life threw me another curve ball and I am beginning to discover I am quite the adaptable catcher, born out of pure need. We returned Thursday night from a wonderful yurting experience and I hit the ground running Friday morning (well, limping, actually!). A friend and I met and went to our monthly spiritual group. This month’s topic? Delight. Finding delight in all areas of life (from sunsets to warm soapy water when washing dishes) and discussing feeling worthy of receiving delight.
A conversation arose about my ability to find delight even in the most “unpleasant of circumstances.” Little did I know that this theory was going to be put to one of my most challenging tests mere hours later.
We were in the car in my driveway post gathering, waxing poetic, as this friend and I can so easily do, when my husband came out with furrowed brow. “Um, Tam, I’m sorry to interrupt. But, I just found out that Nick was killed in a motorcycle accident while we were away.” My mind sputters, “whhh..at? WHAT?!” We embrace. A state of shock quickly follows this sudden news.
There are no ways to describe losing a peer; a man in the summer of his life, just reaching the peak of his full potential. A friend who when described, the most often used adjectives are “vivacious” and “vibrant.” Nick, who sparkled with life and quickly drew anyone and everyone into his light. As his father said, “he lived large.” And that he did. But, shouldn’t he still be living that life? Where is “God’ Plan” in a circumstance such as this? Yet, there is no plan. I do not believe God is sitting on a perch high above, pointing his finger, declaring “You shall live and you shall die.” It all feels so senseless. But, just as I can find delight in unpleasant times, I can also find meaning in the most dire of circumstances. . .
When his brother spoke at the funeral, he told of a hike the two of them had taken together on Nick’s 40th birthday, about four years ago. Chuckling, he said they spent the entire time talking about life’s philosophy. At one point, Nick turned towards his brother and said, “Doug, How do you make it to the next Christmas? You know how you look forward to Christmas for weeks heading up to it? As the anticipation grows, so does the excitement. Each day closer builds suspense for that ‘big day.’ And then Christmas arrives and it’s fantastic. But then you wake up the next morning at a loss. You can’t start gearing up for the next Christmas yet, because 12 months of waiting would just be too long. So you start to wonder how you’re going to make it until the next fall when life begins to feel good again. How do you make it through those days, Doug?” Even though Nick burned with the intensity of life on the outside, inside he struggled with his own inner peace. But, this is where his brother continued the story. He shared that this was a turning point for Nick, a time where he decided to make a lot of changes in his life, to reach out for help from others and to change his philosophy on living life.
Nick began living his life “one day at a time.” He knew that all he had to worry about was just getting through the next day. And not only did that bring life back down to a manageable size, he now also greeted each day with the thought, “how am I going to fully embrace life for today?” And embrace it, he did… if he thought of a long lost friend, he would call them. If it was his brother’s 40th birthday, he hopped in the car and drove 5 hours to surprise him for dinner. One day, he grabbed his son and they got on a train headed east until they wanted to get off; they stopped for some lunch at a random train station and got back on for the return trip home. Just because. He promised his daughter the same when she got a bit older. That father daughter trip (this time a spontaneous day trip from Rochester, NY to Chicago), happened just two weeks ago. If he hadn’t taken the approach of “one day at a time” and instead was waiting for “that perfect day in the ‘sometime’ future,” that trip may never have happened. But instead, his children now have this memory to relive and hold on to anytime they miss their dad.
During the service, the minister used several metaphorical stories. He first spoke of seed packets and the date that is stamped on the back declaring how soon (or how long) a particular vegetable will reach “peak harvest.” He asked that if we were to know that date when a child was born, when a friend was made, when a mate was found, would we send them back or turn them away if the date was too short? If the harvest of their life came at 2 years, 16 years… 44 years? Of course not. We would choose to embrace the time we have with them, to not waste a precious moment. And since we do not have the insight into these dates on living beings (thankfully), we need to approach each day fully, to not waste another moment to embrace those we love.
On this note, he spoke of a couple who just celebrated their 75th wedding anniversary. When asked the typical question, “how do you make a marriage last?” The husband told of a gift given to him by his father on his wedding day. It was a pocket-watch and when opened it was engraved with these words, “Say something nice to Sarah.” What a beautiful, simple reminder; each time you check the time, pause to share a kind word with the loved one next to you. In a sense this could be extended to anyone next to you. Perhaps that person is a stranger who so desperately needs to hear a gentle word on that day.
And that brings me full circle back to my friend Nick. Nick employed these techniques in his interactions, every moment of his day. There were people at his funeral who had only known him a few months, but felt just as deeply connected to him as those who have known him for years. Because he would notice that person standing at the sidelines, feeling uncomfortable, and he would draw them into the fold. He loved to engage in a volley of the minds and was very knowledgeable on a wide range of topics. But he would always encourage others to educate him and challenge his mind. He made you feel special, respected and heard. That’s a gift we can all take away from his life.
When his father spoke, he read from 1 Corinthians 4-13 (abbreviated quote below):
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres… Love never fails… For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”
Most of us are familiar with this reading from weddings. It is not often read at the time of a death. But, why not? Death of the physical body cannot extinguish the soul of the person; the place that holds LOVE.
We were charged with carrying this message forth as we left the church. Of continuing Nick’s legacy by remembering these words of compassion and kindness. The minister told us to find people who do not have love in their life, and bring it to them. To pass on our love to others. To think of what Nick would have done in a similar situation. And although it does not ease the deep hole of pain and loss burning in my heart right now, I find comfort in this concrete action I can take.
And this is where I find peace in “God’s plan.” God’s will is not for us to wither and become hardened by the loss of someone (far too soon); it is to continue the spirit of that person in the living.
As Thomas Campbell said…
“To live in the hearts of those left behind is not to die.”
When we question the “why” of mortality, we often also question the “why me?” of life in general. “Why was I given this chronic illness? Why do I have to struggle? Why does my loved one have to suffer? Why do the ones I love have to leave me?” But, perhaps we are asking the wrong question. Instead of “Why me?” how about asking “what next?”
So, “What’s Next?!” What are you going to do with your one day? Each morning starts a new one: a new opportunity to fully embrace life and those we love. And if today’s the day you are struggling with how to make it to the next Christmas, remember, it’s just one day you have to get through before the winds change and different one arrives just 24 hours later…
· How can you Spread Love today?
· When you check the time, what loved one is nearby? Say something kind to them… **That loved one may just be yourself!!**
· What spontaneous act can you do today to fully live the next 24 hours? (from a train ride to sitting outside and watching the birds nest to calling a family member to remind them how much they mean to you).
· Who can you write a “love letter” to today?… one to yourself, marked to open one year from now? one to your mate that you stick in the mail so they get a surprise in 2 days? a note to your child for them to open when they turn 18? or a letter to someone who died before you had the chance to tell them how much they meant to your life? Love letters can HEAL