I read a post on Facebook last night from a woman in Australia, Holly Butcher, who recently passed away from cancer. Her words were not necessarily revolutionary since we've seen this sort of thing before. But it was poignant, especially for someone so young. She was only 26.
She begins by decrying our tendency to whine about small, or uncontrollable things - the traffic, the weather, the Red Sox - forgetting that there are people around us with real problems. It was hard for her to hear people complain about such things, when she herself was facing a greatly shortened life, one without fulfilling many of the goals and dreams she had for herself. (For clarity, this, I define as a 'real' problem.)
Although she spends time at the beginning reminding us of our focus on the small, she goes on in some detail describing how to live fully, that we define our own quality of life, and even that it's okay not to strive to be more than average. You do not have to jump out of an airplane, surf the Banzai pipeline or climb Mount Everest to live fully, unless those are things that excite and motivate and spur you happily on. You can read a bunch of books, write a blog or simply be with friends and family, enjoying the time, since we have no idea exactly how much time we may have.
I struggle with this, and I tend to behave as though I have a long way to go, and thus, behave conservatively. I try to conserve my resources, take few risks, pursue safe, easy goals and generally play as though I have a big lead and am running out the clock. My guess is that there are a lot of people who do as I do. And yet we all nod in agreement as we read the wisdom of one who is gone too soon.
The question, then, is this: How do we balance between living as though there is no tomorrow, with living as though we have to last another few decades?
I would love to keep you reading by promising a cogent description of exactly how to do this. I don't have one. The question of whether you should quit your job, take your savings and go on safari is not answered here. Nor will we talk about the merits of maxing out your 401k contributions.
What I would say is that, regardless of your specific activities, that a life well-lived is largely defined by how you treat the people in it. God knows, no one is perfect and He doesn't expect you to be. But the better we treat others - with kindness, courtesy, honesty and respect - the more blessed we are. There may be no material earthly gain, but it is storing up treasure in heaven when you sincerely care for and love others.
A few specific areas on which you can focus that bring you closer to the ideal:
Listen - there may be no more comprehensive means to show kindness, courtesy, honesty and respect than to simply listen to another person. So many live in frustration from not being heard. Your ear may be the cup of water to the thirsty traveler in the desert.
Learn - watch others who are considered to be nice people. Why do you think they are nice? What do they do that you don't do? They don't have to be perfect - indeed no one is. But any time you can pick up a new habit or behavior that makes you a little nicer, you also honor the one you learned it from.
Encourage - and when you learn something valuable from another person, let them know that you admire them for it, and thank them for their example. This sounds awkward, but it's not, as long as you're sincere. Separate from that, there are lots of opportunities every day to encourage someone. The cashier with a great attitude, the co-worker who goes above and beyond, the friend who is a great listener. Again, it doesn't have to be weird or awkward. Just say, 'I like the way you said or did or figured out or wrote or whatever.' Chances are they'll be caught off guard, so don't belabor it.
If we practice these 3 habits every day, keeping mental track of when we did - or didn't - do them, we gradually improve ourselves. And whether we jump out of airplanes or watch Househunters on TV, we will be living fully and making the most of whatever time we have to spend on earth.
God bless you.