A Life


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Photo by Kary Schumpert.

What makes a life? How do we live? What do we do? How do we love? Who do we love? How do we react?

 

Today, I am thinking about a life. It’s the singularity of one life, of one person that preoccupies me today. I can’t find the source of the quote, but the simplicity of the following slays me:

“We all have a birth day and a death day. It’s what we do in between that matters.”

It’s cliché that we only seem to consider the significance of our lives when something happens like illness or an accident, or when someone we love is facing their own mortality. Sometimes it’s a stand-out milestone like the birth of a child or the passing of a birthday that inspires us. A few years ago, reuniting with a new-old friend and the sizing up of my own life inspired me to want to live significantly and deliberately and truthfully and spiritually and fully.

It’s not that I hadn’t wanted to live significantly before, but somehow, something stuck that day. Long-term change began. What was it about the friend? What was it about the day? It wasn’t illness or facing my own mortality, but it was a sunny spring day in early April, nowhere near the new year or my birthday. How are things different? How do I measure significance? It’s difficult to say, but there was a shift. There was a sliver of time, a moment and somehow things have been different ever since.

Mostly the differences are internal, perhaps not even perceptible to anyone but me. Thoughts and feelings are different. How I react is different. I have not reached enlightenment, but there is growth. The questions are there. Worry is there, but now I switch out of it. Feelings of insecurity are there, but I switch out of it. Financial struggles are still there. Daily joy in small things is still there. Love is still there. Delight in teaching is still there. Daydreaming is still there. Yearning is still there. Still, everything is different.

Even with the perspective of that change, there are days like today. There is a family member and illness. Today, I am worrying and thinking about mortality and the significance and ordinariness of a life. I think the beauty of our lives is that they are both significant and ordinary, with events both big and small, with actions both selfish and selfless. I think of family, my life, and those I love. I am listless and jumpy from the caffeine in my coffee cup. Today, I ponder that internal change and I measure the progress of my heart, of my life.

The significance is how we treat others. The gift is the ability to love. It’s how we smile to strangers. It’s how we open the door for someone. It’s how we give up the seat on the bus. It’s how we let someone cut in line. It’s how we react to sickness. It’s how we treat our spouses. It’s what we do in pockets of time. It’s how we admit we are wrong. It’s how we behave when no one is watching. It’s how we react in crisis. It’s how we are in the midst of mundane. It’s how we forgive when no one ever even knows. It’s how we respond to disappointment. It’s how we give thanks. It’s the sum of a million moments. It’s the realization of impermanence.

It’s the grace we give others. It’s the grace we give ourselves. It’s the decision made over and over again to find peace and be that bit of peace in a crazy world. It’s the knowledge that we will make mistakes and cause heartbreak. It’s knowing that we have a responsibility for our own big and ordinary lives.

It’s the realization of impermanence.

It’s a moment. It’s a life. It’s love. In that, there is everything.

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