By Richard Levick
“Ah death, a change of clothes.”
–The 14th Dalai Lama
The endless fields of amber grain. Valhalla so far in the distance it is, we are sure, just shy of eternity. Mortality, we have decided, is not for us. “Heaven can wait.”
I suppose old age and death are things that happen to others…at some point, and then only far in the future. We see it all the time, not the least of which is from the most judgmental among us. This current race to victimhood or pride over how patriotic, traditional, biblical, green, diverse, sexually identified, vegan, the most uncomfortable or whatever else it takes to win the imaginary contest has me thinking we are doing too much talking and not enough listening. It is not victimhood that suggests humanity but empathy and kindness – the two blessings that stem from asking the question, “How are you?” and then actually paying enough attention to heed the answer.
Maybe age, cancer and many other illnesses are not communicable diseases, as so many fear, but why take a chance? Let us discuss our victimhood ad nauseum while we largely ignore the aged (“OK, Boomer”), the infirm, the disabled and parents of the disabled. Let them suffer alone. We have our own victimhood to brag about.
When did advocacy lose empathy?
As spiritual writer and film maker John Harrigan wrote, “People need loving the most when they deserve it the least.” A tall order but a heck of a mission.
Age and infirmity most often teach a wisdom and humility that cannot be found in the latest email signature or rally cry. We are all on a limited runway. We just don’t know the distance. Maybe we should embrace our collective journey? Mortality—now there is a common theme.
When I was four, and then so many early ages thereafter, my quiet little world was filled with such a plethora of unexpected death that I thought it was fate, not theory. Sometimes overnight, sometimes after a protracted illness. Hope was always shattered but never eviscerated.
A few months ago I started having subtle, almost unnoticeable symptoms that could easily be confused with aging. Until they could not. The test results – blood, bone marrow, CT scans and so many more – started coming in, all “dark” as the oncologists and other specialists would say. It was palliative care, not cure, but remission can literally last decades so it is certainly not a likely death sentence.
When my life first fell apart 15 years ago, I asked myself how I could be a better person, what I could learn, how I could be more spiritual. Grace takes a lifetime or more; yet this time the results were so instantly in evidence that I was the one reassuring the medical teams. “Whatever it will be it will be and I accept it.” I am pretty sure it will be remission after six or eight months of chemotherapy and radiation, but it is not something I lose sleep over. Maybe the Hindus are right and we keep coming back until we get it right. Samsara. I would like that.
I am no little Buddha in training (though I humbly try). I am just a mortal man with all those many limitations, who has learned over the years to appreciate every little thing that surrounds me – the migrating birds, Beethoven, freshly baked bread, the beauty of an insect and a billion more formerly unnoticed gifts. I have learned the meaning of “enough,” something I only recently inherited from my late father. Contentment lies within, not the next purchase or conquest.
I am not sure what is out there – either in the universes of universes or the heavens themselves – but I am pretty sure that anything and everything is possible and that the certainty and bright lines we so desperately seek are answered by our faith, a dose of deniability and the strength we find in our connectedness and love, not our differences and judgment. In the end, what does it all matter if we have not practiced kindness and self-awareness?
The spirit is willing but the flesh is truly weak. I can no longer write my weekly columns or host my daily podcast for the Corporate Counsel Business Journal — which is a shame for so many reasons, not the least of which were all the remarkable guests from around the world and how we were soaring past 100,000 listeners annually, putting us in the top 10% of podcasts globally. But there is always gain in loss, so we are opening our weekly eNewsletter (circ: 55,000) to guests columnists. Just send your column to our Marketing Coordinator, Nicole Mailhoit at [email protected] with a bio line as well as your permission and we will do our best to run it. It is okay if it has run before, as long as it remains relevant and we have the proper permissions. The podcast will come back in time, too.
Ideas, like breath, are always welcome.
Today’s Final Thought
Eternity is what we make it, not what is handed to us.
Would it be me if I didn’t quote both The 14th Dalai Lama and Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character from The Terminator in the same column?
“I’ll be back.”
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