The Greatest Gift of All

May well take you years to accept

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I had a girlfriend I was madly in love with years ago. Actually there were three. Each one came at a different stage of my life. The first left me. And broke my young heart. As first loves are wont to do, it took me some time but I moved on. And met the woman I would marry about three years later.

Decades later, after a long and brutal illness, she died. And left me with a shattered heart and broken dreams. In some ways I still struggle with that loss. But I’ve also grown into a completely different person. And I have moved on. Sort of. I like to pretend anyway. Enough to pass the gift on, regardless. To the third woman who would steal my heart.

I imagine she believes I bled all over her for a wound she didn’t inflict. But we danced around in our relationship for a number of years. And I did love her. But I just couldn’t figure out a way to fit my vision of this life into the puzzle that she brought to the table. So I let her go. Because not to would have been unkind to her and unfair to myself.

I’ve recently learned that she has launched the dream she always talked about. The one she didn’t seem quite willing to reach for while we were still a couple. And I can see now that the courage she needed to build that dream was the gift she gave herself after I broke her heart.

And therein resides the gift that is so damn hard to receive.


The greatest gift a human can give to one they love. And no, they may not want it. They may wail against it. And they may never embrace it. It’s far from free. True freedom comes with great loss. The loss of the love you wanted to have. The loss of the future you’ve envisioned. It may in fact, have been the love you dreamed of having all your life. But nothing on this earth lasts forever. And as the prophet Janice taught us all:

Freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose.

Losing one you love deeply, whether through death, divorce or just a parting of ways offers you the courage to know you can survive the end of what was once the most important thing in the world to you. Seize that knowledge and you can build a new world around yourself. It doesn’t mean there’s no longer pain, but what is a scar but new growth? Growth is what life is all about.

Loss is the most potent weapon you will ever face in life. But it’s also the most powerful tool you will ever have. Allow it to, and it will give you gifts of limitless value. It’s your choice to accept them or not.

The Voyage of a Lifetime

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Photo by Johannes Plenio on Unsplash

Humans are explorers. We always have been. I would submit that it’s the reason we manifest onto this plane in the first place. To boldly go where we’ve never gone before. Physically, intellectually, emotionally, even sexually. We may be wired to seek comfort. But we’re not happy in that place.

Most of us will wind up in an unsatisfying, soul crushing JOB, or whole series of jobs. For the better part of forty years. Is that what we should be doing? With this one glorious opportunity for adventure?

Nobody gets out alive. Again, for those of you in the back —

No one gets out alive!

Goals are great but they’re also limiting. See, you can’t really set a goal for an outcome you can’t even envision. And any true adventurer will tell you, the best part of the adventure is the stuff that happens in between the destinations you set out to reach. To me, approaching life as an open-ended adventure is much more enjoyable than attaching yourself to some goal. Obviously, everyone’s mileage will vary but I find the happiest people to be the ones who find enjoyment in the everyday surprises that life hands us. The achievers and over-achievers never seem to find satisfaction. As soon as they’ve conquered the mountain, they’re off setting their sights on the next.

When you’re lying on your deathbed are you really going to bask in the glow of making partner at twenty-five? Will you brag about the AI you wrote that replaced fifteen hundred call center employees? Likely not. But what about that day you hiked up to Horsetail Falls on a cold February afternoon with your best friend and watched the water catch fire at dusk? Or the day you dove off the bow of that little sailboat into the azure blue sea of the Caribbean on your second date with the woman who’s now, fifty years later, sitting in the chair next to your bed?

Life is made of moments of magic and wonder. Like fairies and leprechauns, they disappear out of the corner of your eye if you don’t pay attention. What, you don’t believe in fairies or leprechauns? Probably think dragons are some fantastical, mythical creatures too, eh? Well, it’s not my job to convince you of what you refuse to see. So, keep setting your focus on the goal in front of you, to the exclusion of all else. Just be prepared to miss making the memories that bring all the color and texture to life.

“To be truly challenging, a voyage, like a life, must rest on a firm foundation of financial unrest. Otherwise, you are doomed to a routine traverse, the kind known to yachtsmen who play with their boats at sea… “cruising” it is called. Voyaging belongs to seamen, and to the wanderers of the world who cannot, or will not, fit in.” — Sterling Hayden

There’s a time and a place for reaching out and making things happen. For sitting on top of the world and surveying all you’ve achieved. Just remember, the most interesting people in the world don’t sit behind a desk for sixty hours a week running the sales figures for the last quarter. Admit it, that’s not what you really want to be doing with your life either.

Don’t wait too long or you’ll be too tired to make a life while you’re so busy making a living.

Thank you for your time.

Be Not Afraid

You are never alone

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I don’t remember the last time I died. But I sure as hell remember the last time I attended a death.

She could no longer speak. But I sensed her need. Even though I was asleep in the bedroom and she was in her power wheelchair in the living room. She needed to go to the bathroom.

Subconsciously, I had become attuned to her needs. It was something beyond words or sounds. To this day I’m not quite sure when she lost her voice. I remember our interactions as clear conversations even though she had completely lost the ability to speak months before.

Sometime between midnight and three in the morning I woke up. She needed help. I know it was in this time window because by five she was gone. And I had slept even after wheeling her into the bathroom and back out. I remember quietly whispering into her ear as I pushed her along: “You can go now, your father will be there. We’ll be okay.”

It was all she needed to hear. I know I slept for awhile afterwards but I have no recollection of where nor do I remember how I came to be on the telephone with her doctor asking if I could give her another dose of morphine. I know her mother was there because she had urged me to call and she would be there for the rest of her daughter’s life. She was a nurse and she understood these things. Even if she had never in a million years imagined she’d witness her own daughter’s passing.

I can’t tell you how I know. But I can tell you when I came to understand. I was thirteen years old. I don’t know what happened to bring it on but I remember laying in bed and imploring the power that is: “Please don’t make me come back here again.” And I understood, at the core of my being, that life is not what it seems.

There is pain here. And soul searing indifference. Why is that, I wonder? And I realize it’s because people are scared. Of losing what they have. So scared that they will destroy anything and anyone in order to hold on to it. And yet, in the end, we lose it all anyway. The only thing that has any lasting value at all, is love.

Just like I don’t know how my wife communicated her needs to me, I don’t know how I know this truth. But I know it as if the Universe itself whispered it in my ear.

To fear death is like fearing the sunset. We have no control over either. And to pretend that we do is to live our lives in a state of delusion.

My wife was afraid of death. But not for the reasons stated above. She had no ties to the material world. She had two driving forces in her life. The work she did and the children we raised.

She spent her entire working life as a helper. She ran community residence programs for the mentally ill. She advocated for, and made the lives of, so many disenfranchised souls, less tortuous. She understood these people and the difficult lives they were living. Not because she was one of them, but because her father was clinically depressed himself. She was raised in the chaos of mental illness and spent her life trying to improve the lives of people like her father.

If there’s a lesson in all of that for me, and most of us in the world, it’s this: People are NOT fully responsible for the life situation in which they find themselves. It’s a lie we tell ourselves to avoid taking any responsibility for our fellow human beings.

It’s also a lie my wife had no intention of telling herself. Like nurses called to the occupation, she came here to serve. And, like one who is doing what she came here for, she loved life and she didn’t want to leave. Which makes me wonder why she had to suffer such a horrifying death herself?

I can come to no other conclusion than that of unveiling to me the interconnection of all of our lives. And the impulse to write about it. To whisper it into the ears of as many other humans as possible.

Be not afraid. There are helpers. We are all helpers. Each in our own subtle and unique way. All we need to do is to discover and embrace our destiny.

Thank you for sharing your time with me.

Oh, to be loved like that!

Are you sure you mean it?

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Photo by Joshua Earle on Unsplash

I was chatting with my friend and fellow Medium writer Ann Litts last night, right after she wrote this piece. She told me the situation had reminded her of me and the love I had for my late wife, as I’ve written about before.

As these kinds of conversations often do, it led me into a place of quiet reflection. And another sleepless night.

Hi, I’m Dick and I fall in love too fast, too deep and I give way too much. Or, at least I once did.

The person I love has always come first. My family has always been next in line. Only after I was certain they were all getting what I thought they needed did I look after my own interests. I’m certain some of those people would argue the point, but remember I clearly stated: “what I thought they needed”. I’m sure I was wrong, on many occasions. That doesn’t negate the fact that I was doing what I thought was the “right thing”.

I turned down promotions. I often took unnecessary risks to get home late at night instead of staying over in a hotel. All because my family meant more to me than any career. And, as most ambitious women have known for decades, putting your family first doesn’t bode well for advancement opportunities in business. It cost me. I martyred myself in many ways. But I really don’t regret any of that at all. At least not when it comes to “career” aspirations. I’ve never seen what I did for money as much more than a job.

The lesson I needed to learn came when my wife was dying. When she left the choice of her or the family’s future in my lap. ALS was stealing her breath away, slowly and inexorably suffocating her. There was the option of going on a vent. Extending her life for an indefinite period of time. And she wanted that. She wanted more than anything to see her children grow up, make their way in the world and have her grandchildren. I think you can probably see where this is going.

I contacted her doctor and requested information about the procedure. I asked about follow-up care. I learned that committing to this course of action would likely cost in the neighborhood of $30,000 per month. For as long as she lived. Insurance would cover it. But this was ten years ago. My insurance had a lifetime cap of one million dollars. We’d already gone through something on the order of a hundred thousand and there really was no hope for a cure on the horizon. Even the doctor recommended against going down this road.

I loved my wife. And I love my kids. But here I was, having to decide between keeping my wife alive and being able to provide some sort of future for my four kids. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t make the decision. I told her I would do whatever she wanted but that she would have to make the decision herself. And as a mother, she couldn’t do it either.

I often struggle with this memory. Did I take the coward’s way out by forcing her to choose? Or did I actually choose myself and my kids over her? Was it fair of her to even ask such a thing of me? I don’t have quite the same tenacious grip on life that my wife possessed. If I had been faced with the same decision for myself, it would have been easy for me to choose her and the kids. But I think I knew that I was making her decide, almost certainly against her greatest hope. And in that moment, I didn’t feel like the husband I had always believed myself to be. I felt defeated. By something out of both of our hands. I think, in retrospect, that’s the very moment I realized that any sense of control we believe ourselves to have is fleeting and illusory.

In the grand scheme of things, I believe we’re just along for the ride. And depending on your belief system, fate, the gods, God or even random chance will always have the last word. We’re asked only to choose love. But even that choice can rip us apart if the circumstances are just so. I wouldn’t wish the circumstances we found ourselves in on anyone. But I’ve come to believe that it was the price extracted for the opportunity to love so completely.

Or maybe I’m just a romantic old fool.

Thank you for your time.

The Love Song

Photo by Johanna Vogt on Unsplash

just a fleeting murmur on the wind
an ethereal note from some distant memory
the heart leaps into a staccato rhythm
and promises forever in a single chord

a unique and distinctive symphony
that fills the emptiness with the tones of creation
and ushers forth a new universe
in the space between two conjoined souls

there is no time, there is no space
there is only the music
an endless rhapsody of bliss
composed and conducted by love itself