We can’t eliminate fear from our lives. But we can ask: am I fearing the right things?
For example, John Henry Cardinal Newman wrote:
“Fear not that life shall come to an end, but rather fear that it shall never have a beginning.”
When I read that, it reminded me a bumper sticker I saw:
“Is there life before death?”
And I seem to remember some graffiti on a wall that read:
“Beam me up Scottie, there’s no intelligent life down here.”
Well, of course, I would never suggest that you or I or anyone we know is lacking in “intelligent life.” (Although I can think of a few moments in my own life when that quote might have been appropriate for me.)
But I digress.
The point of this not-to-be-taken-too-seriously reminder is simply a gentle, smiling nudge for all of us: whatever you’ve got going today…remember to live.
Learning what it is to live…isn’t that the education that matters most?
“Follow your dreams!” “Be your best self!” “Make a difference in the world!”
Not to be cynical but…doesn’t it sometimes get a little exhausting?
It’s easy to feel overwhelmed today. Overwhelmed by information. Overwhelmed by bad news. Overwhelmed by choices. Overwhelmed by mistakes. Overwhelmed by life.
I don’t think it helps anyone for us to feel overwhelmed. So maybe it’s okay once in a while to give ourselves a break and say, “I’m just going to try to do what I can.”
Sydney Smith said:
“It is the greatest of all mistakes to do nothing because you can do only a little. Do what you can.”
Theodore Roosevelt said:
“Do you have a problem? Do what you can where you are with what you’ve got.”
And Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote:
“You and you alone can make you do what you can; You’ll have to be the coach, the player and the fan.”
Stuck in a log cabin, out in the middle of nowhere in Kentucky, Abe Lincoln’s mother just did what she could.
Maybe there are people in your life who have had a refreshing impact on you simply by showing up and being present—simply by being who they are or doing what they could.
“Do what you can.” It’s not a bad handle for taking hold of life. It’s a way to feel a little less overwhelmed.
And I’m imagining that it would be good, on my last day, to at least be able to say, “I did what I could.”
You’ve probably heard this old joke. A man in New York City asks someone, “How do I get to Carnegie Hall?”
They answer: “Practice, practice, practice.”
What if that is also the way to get to a well-lived life?
Since life is given to us one day at a time, what if we thought of each day as a practice session?
Maybe if we get a day right…and then another…”practice, practice, practice.”
Now, there’s a lot of advice on how to start a day or live a day. But have you thought about how you end your days?
Ralph Waldo Emerson speaks to that:
“Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day; begin it well and serenely and with too high a spirit to be cumbered with your old nonsense.”
I like that: turning loose of the past to start fresh the next day with a “high spirit.”
As the Bible says: “Let the day’s own trouble be sufficient for the day.”
Now, there are many ways to end a day, of course.
You can end a day simply running out of gas.
Or you can end a day tired, but it’s a “good tired”—like the tired an athlete feels at the end of a hard-fought game.
It’s a time for quiet reflection. For learning, perhaps. For gratitude (there are always things to be grateful for).
It’s also a time for celebrating that most precious gift: a day of life.
Don Peterson, past president of Ford Motor Company, tells about visiting a plant in Buffalo, New York. A big bear of a man came up to him and said,
“I used to hate coming to work here. But lately I’ve been asked what I think, and that makes me feel like I’m somebody. I never thought the company saw me as a human being. Now I like coming to work.”
In Houston, a nonprofit called Neighborhood Centers has achieved astounding success in creating programs that help poor people move up the ladder. Their secret? They always start by asking the people in poor neighborhoods what they need, really listening to them, and involving them in the process of developing programs.
Sometimes we forget that we can just ask. And listen.
You want your hotel to run more smoothly? Ask the maids. They’ll know what ought to be done.
And, yes, even teenagers. A prominent family therapist said that your teenagers will tell you what you need to know as a parent if you listen long enough and hard enough.
In working and living with other human beings, when we run into snags or dead-ends…when we’re frustrated or disappointed…when we’re not sure what to do next…it’s good to know we have the option of asking good questions and listening longer and harder.
Is life found in the “far” or in the “near”?
It’s good to reach for the “far”—the long-term goal, the thing we yearn for, the great dream, maybe a better job or better situation or whatever.
But it’s also good once in a while to be reminded of the power of the “near”—as in this advice from that light-hearted sage Ferris Buehler in the movie Ferris Buehler’s Day Off:
“Life moves pretty fast, and if you don’t stop and look around once in a while you just might miss it.”
When the “far” disappoints us…when the thing we reached for seems out of reach…when things just didn’t work out the way we hoped, it helps to remember that the “near” is still there.
And the “near” just might hold more possibility than we think.
A French proverb says:
“When we cannot get what we love, we must love what is within our reach.”
Loving the near can take many forms.
It might mean, for example, stopping to take a second look at those people around us every day—at home, at work.
Who are these incredible human beings? What makes each one unique? What private battle is each one waging?
It might mean taking a little time to get to know someone a little better…or get to know ourselves a little better.
Or it might mean pouring our love and joy into today’s ordinary tasks and moments even when we don’t feel like it. Because this, too, is life—our one and only life!
Loving the near doesn’t mean giving up on the far. But it can help us keep our energy and spirit of wonder alive.
And we’ll need that…in our reach for our dreams.