As you travel on this pathway we call life, have you considered what matters most to you? If you were to develop a terminal illness, do you think your life priorities might shift? Remain the same?
Although I have no life-threatening illness I am aware of, I have for several weeks now journeyed at the side of a friend with incurable brain cancer. I see this virulent, aggressive disease steal a little more of her life each week—loss of mobility, loss of the use of one arm, loss of speech, loss of the ability to live independently, loss of self care skills, loss of cherished leisure skills, and in time, the glioblastoma will pilfer her final possession: her life.
Sorrowed by a serious set-back a few days ago at a time when we were geared up to work at therapies that would help her walk again and use both her arms, I have been ruminating about what’s truly important in life, and about how we use our precious time here on earth together. When we arrive at the end of our days—as we all will one day—what are the things we’ll remember as the things that truly mattered? Will it be the size or elegance of our home? The kind of car or truck we drive? The brand name of furniture we place in our homes? The size of our bank accounts? Or something else? While I felt the above are all nice, I discarded each as not one that matters most.
I thought back to my young neighbor years ago, Louise, who developed colon cancer and soon died. After visiting with her one day at her home, Louise walked outside into the warm sunny Catskill day with me as I prepared to leave. I opened the car door to slide in, when she suddenly said, “Oh, look at the beautiful yellow bird,” and pointed to a young tree close to us, where the bird perched. I looked at the bright, lemon-colored bird and then looked at Louise’s face as she told me what kind it was. Her blue eyes glowed with pleasure from the bird’s presence, her smile was peace-filled and lovely, and her entire face radiated inner joy, a reflection of the gifts the yellow bird had given her.
After Louise died, I remembered that brief moment often and vividly, as I still do today, feeling the cloudless blue sky and sun envelop us all in that brief moment of warmth and profound pleasure. Small perfect moments like these matter so much, moments that can easily slip away unnoticed, yet moments to vigilantly watch for, in order to enter into them fully and deeply.
A colorful kaleidoscope of rich memories like these passed through my mind as I pondered: my children young, completely and happily absorbed into moments of deep pleasure: watching a tadpole swim, opening a birthday gift, swinging high in the park, engrossed in a book. These were interspersed with a slideshow of times with friends, with past clients and patients with whom I worked.
These are the events, to me, that matter most in life: our complete presence with each other. Our willingness to “hold space” with one another.
A Facebook friend recently shared an excellent article about holding space with each other that captures what I am describing. Although it centers on an end-of-life moment, I believe we can hold space with another at any time in life. If you’d like to read more, the link is: http://heatherplett.com/2015/03/hold-space/
As I hold space with my friend each day now, I can think of nothing that matters more in life.