A friend of mine died this week. Cancer. Fortunately for him, he didn’t suffer for long and when he passed he was surrounded by people who love him. We should all be so lucky.
But of course, luck didn’t have all that much to do with it. As I stood around at his celebration of life gathering I was awash in the feelings of love that permeated the room. This was a man who lived life in the biggest, loudest way. He was both a gentleman and a rascal. He took risks, he had his heart broken, he won and lost in business and in Vegas. He lived according to his own nature, and he made no apologies for that. I don’t know if he had any regrets – I never got the chance to ask him – but I suspect he had very few.
He was famous for his generosity. This was a man who gave his friends his brand new Range Rover to drive to Whistler, simply because it was better than the car they had. When I was in Kauai, where he lived part time, he called me everyday to make sure we were having fun and did the kids I was with need water toys. This was the guy who, a few days before his death, insisted he arrange for me to go use his vacation home. The guy who, when I told him my heart had been broken demanded, “Shall I have the bastard who did it taken out?” (He was kidding. I think.)
My friend never played it safe. He was clear on his priorities: loving and laughing with the people who mattered. Did I mention he attended his own celebration of life? He didn’t want to miss all the great things that were going to be said about him. He didn’t want to miss the chance to see so many people who loved him all in one place.
His passing strikes a chord with me not only because he was a friend or because he was too young to go (57), but because it gives me pause to take stock in my own life. It has been a time of disappointment, adjustment, revelation and refocus and his death makes me realize that for someone who can be awfully spontaneous, change is not always so easy for me. But I’m beginning to see it is the process of change that I struggle with. The change itself eventually becomes the new normal. And there can be a bright light in that new reality.
It is so easy to switch to autopilot in relationships, friendships and careers; in every element of life, and become numb. We play to our own fears and our own shame. We play it safe. We stop connecting and we fail to live with a whole heart. American scholar Brené Brown points out in her moving Ted Talk that without a whole heart, we cannot be vulnerable. And without painful vulnerability we will never find love, joy or belonging.
If you’re going through a change in your life, whether by choice or by force, it is an opportunity to recalibrate. Clean out your closets. Literally. Connect with yourself. Feel your fear. Meditate. Take a trip. Walk down the other side of the street; you never know who you’ll run into. Say goodbye to the people who are full of shit. Then grab hold of those who love you and break bread together, as often as possible. Ask yourself the tough questions. Let go of who you think you should be. Stop controlling and predicting and do something where there are no guarantees of the outcome. Do what you say you’re going to do. Love with urgency and not with haste. Be vulnerable. Be generous. Stop wasting time. And quit smoking.
While I don’t think my friend meditated and I know he never gave up cigarettes, he had a lot of this stuff figured out a long time ago. It’s high time we all did the same.