We sat in front of the doctor as he gave us the news. “You don’t need any more tests, you have ALS. I’m very sorry.” he said as he rose from his stool. “I’ll leave you now. If you have any questions, please contact my office.”
We’d been through half a dozen doctors. Visited three separate neurologists. And after over a year of searching we now had an answer as to why wife’s right hand was becoming a useless appendage. It wasn’t good news.
Do you want a successful life?
Have you planned for EVERY conceivable contingency? Because if you’ve missed one, that’s the one that will bite you in the ass.
I planned for every one I could imagine. Or so I thought. I carried a million dollar life insurance policy. On myself. Because I thought I’d die long before my wife. And she would need the resources to successfully raise our four children. But I never really considered that she might get sick and die first. And long before those kids were all grown up.
I put a lot of money away for retirement too. Because my wife couldn’t. And I figured she’d need that if she were going to have the time and resources to be a proper grandmother in her later years. Truly, I never even considered that I would be the only one to get a chance to be a grandparent.
But here I am. Financially free after a lifetime of trying to make sure the people I love would have a chance when I was gone. And I AM successful. In most ways.
But I lost the one person who gave meaning to success in my life. And that’s something you can’t plan for, no matter how smart and capable you might be. Real success doesn’t come from anything you achieve in life. It comes from the people you love and the gift of love they give back. If you lose one of them, you have to start all over again. And you’ll be way poorer than any lack of money could ever make you.
There’s a certain kind of power granted to one when they realize that they have no control over the future. We are minuscule little deflections in the matrix. Very little of what we do here matters, in the grand scheme of things. Does that mean we should just throw up our hands and concede defeat? Not at all. In fact;
It’s all terribly important. But none of it really matters.
In the end, nothing much of what we do here will be remembered. But, to those we love, it can make all the difference. And sometimes, it means everything to someone we’ve never even met. Every single one of us has the power to change lives. One at a time. That irrelevant seeming little post you make on social media means nothing to 99.9999999% of the population but there’s always the possibility that what you say reaches deep into the consciousness of that one person and gives them the hope they need today. Maybe you only save their life today. But tomorrow their whole world changes. Would you deny them that? If all you had to do was show up and be present?
We all wonder what our purpose here is. What if it’s as simple as telling someone they matter to you? In the darkest of hours, that can feel like someone just threw you a lifeline. We never know the circumstances of the lives we touch. Does that mean we should stop reaching out? I think it means we should extend our hands. Even if they are repeatedly slapped away. The ones who need that help will find us there to help them up. It’s the way of the universe. Ask, and you may receive. Whenever it’s in our power, we should be the ones who are there.
When no one else would hear my pain, I found you, with a hand open and willing to help.
There are always winners and losers, right? He who dies with the most toys wins. Must we always climb over the bodies to reach the top?
Not if we redefine the goal. I’ve always struggled with the idea of competition. On the one hand, it’s the very essence of nature. Species compete with each other for resources. Individuals compete within the social order for the opportunity to mate, eat and survive. The strongest come out on top. Most of the time.
This works quite well. On a local or even a regional level. But scale it up to the level of nations, continents or planets and it’s a recipe for wholesale destruction. Greed is not good. Greed will get us all killed. And guess what? Greed starts with the individual.
That’s right, given the current state of our world, your desire to have it all means somebody else has to go without. As long as it’s “anybody first” we all lose, eventually. The richest nine men in the world have more combined wealth than over half the worlds population. A helluva lot of people are going without for these guys to “have it all”.
The tribal nature of humanity is an evolutionary dead end.
The only way out of this mess is to redefine what having it all means.
The Iroquois held that in all things one must peer seven generations into the future to prepare for the impact of today’s decisions. Seven generations is about 140 years. Longer than anyone will live. Long enough that no matter what you have acquired, it will no longer have any value to you. Long enough that, given the current state of the environment, humanity and most of the rest of the large mammals on this planet may not survive.
And yet almost half of all American’s have essentially no retirement savings at all. People, we can’t even look far enough ahead to make sure we ourselves don’t die of starvation while, in the immortal words of Matt Foley: “living in a van down by the river!”
Why is this? Because, somehow we’ve come to believe that “beating the competition” is a noble pursuit. But it’s not. On a planet with almost eight billion human souls, it’s tantamount to genocide. There must be a higher good. Something beyond animal instinct to create meaning in life. All the wise sages of the past knew this. They taught cooperation, love for your fellow beings, peace. None of the holy writings of our history advocated grabbing all you can get for yourself. And yet, this is what we have decided to hold up as the crowning achievement of civilization.
I submit that we have collectively lost our souls. Sold them for thirty pieces of silver. And that’s a more apt description of it than you might realize. Because if we don’t pull our collective heads out of our asses, we may well have sold out all life on this planet. The planet will survive, even thrive, eventually. But we may not. And how much potential will we have squandered?
I think there’s a better way. But it starts with empathy. We need to learn to care about others. Other people. People who don’t look like us. People who don’t think like us. Even people who don’t love like us. And we need to consider all the other life on this ball of energy too. Only then will we be able to redefine success as a measure of ones positive impact to the world in which they live rather than by the size of the fortune they leave to their heirs.
I was chatting with an old friend today. A comrade in arms, so to speak, on the long road to widowhood I made over ten years ago. That trip was a painful, soul searing life tragedy I’m sure I’ll never completely reconcile emotionally. We shared the process because her husband was dying of the same disease at almost the same time as my wife.
The conversation led down some paths of reflection that I hadn’t sat with in a long time. Those days were difficult. A million things to do. But what I most remembered was the overwhelming sense of abandonment I experienced. I hadn’t examined those feelings because I let them all go a long time ago.
People fail us, when we most need them. Friends don’t show up to help when their presence would lift worlds from our shoulders. Family members just go on living their lives as if nothing is wrong. We have expectations of the people in our lives. Expectations that they will be there when we need them. That they will love us as we love them. That they will hear us when we call out in the darkness. And yet they fail us. Over and over again.
But guess what? We fail them too. Because the things we need from other people are tied to our own perceptions. Even when we give what we most think someone needs, we often fail.
The measure of a person isn’t if they’re there when needed. Sometimes you will be and sometimes you won’t. You’ll often fail to provide that which is most needed in the moment even when you think you’re giving your all. Unless you’re just an asshole, you’re likely to try to help those you love as often as you can. But you’re still going to fail. Often.
The measure of a person is displayed in their ability to forgive. When others fail them. And when they fail others. To be able to accept the imperfections of all the people in our lives. To overlook the perceived slights and misunderstandings. To accept that we’re all weak in some ways and unable to give even when the demand is great.
Some things you don’t so much get over as you just sort of move beyond. The death of a loved one. The ending of what you thought was going to be forever. Life will never be quite the same. Hanging on to the failures you experience in life, whether those of a loved one, or your own, is a zero sum game. No one benefits and everyone stands to lose that most precious of all possessions — love. We’re here for a remarkably short ride and you never really know what pain other people are bearing. Give them the benefit of the doubt.
Forgiveness. We may forgive other people but the release is ours to celebrate.
Seven billion people on this planet. That means there are over seven billion stories. And that’s if every single one of us told only one of the hundreds of stories we have inside of us.
Human beings are storytellers. We have been doing this since the dawn of time. Stories of adventure. Stories of heroism. Stories of love, loss and our deepest angst. We all have a unique story to tell. And my story may be the story that gives you an unexpected insight into your life. And vice versa.
We evolve because we share our stories. We change, who we are and who we become. We imagine ourselves into our future existence. The ability to share our stories, to imagine new stories, to craft new possibilities, gives us unlimited power. Nothing is beyond the human imagination. Because we get to create the story. In real time. And when we combine our stories? Nothing can stop us.