What Does You Holiday Season Include?
December. Winter break. Kids on vacation. Time off work. The Holiday Season. Christmas and Hannukah, which this year begin on the same day, reminding us, if we choose to remember, that an invitation to rededicate ourselves and renew our world is upon us. The Winter Solstice. Lights, smiles, fireplaces and burning logs, get-togethers, hugs and laughter. For many, lots of joy. For others, bittersweet memories, unfulfilled dreams and unsatisfied wishes, maybe even loneliness or melancholy. And, of course, there is counting off yet another year of a finite but unknowable number. The ledger is longer, fuller but still not complete.
Looking Back & Looking Forward
2016 was notable for me in many ways. In addition to being grateful for my life, I became more aware of strong undertows that are always present, which flow just beneath the wave’s surface off life’s shore.
Sometimes, the undertows are marked by clearly posted signs. For me, there was no sign forewarning me of the current’s strength that grasped me tightly and pulled me away. This year, I was swept up and carried off by a powerful emotional undertow that many of us have, or someday will encounter. In fact, I am still swimming in that current’s force. I frankly doubt I’ll ever be entirely free of its pull. This undertow swept me up on February 4 of this year, the day my father breathed his last breath.
Paul Kalanithi, in his book, When Breath Becomes Air, said, “Humans are organisms, subject to physical laws, including, alas, the one that says entropy always increases. Disease are molecules misbehaving; the basic requirement of life is metabolism, and death its cessation.” Those laws applied to my father, a renowned neurologist. His illness reduced his physical presence to that of a mere human organism. Dr. Kalanithi, his unrivaled neurosurgical promise so evident, died, too. He died at 37, not long after his only daughter’s birth and barely having started pursuing his scientific and philosophic calling. By almost any accepted measure, his life was severely abbreviated; harshly truncated before the full length of his days could be lived.
Making Time Matter, Not Marking Time
But what of ours? How would we live our lives differently if we were privy to the number of days we have left to live it? What difference would knowing make? How would we renew ourselves, and toward what would we dedicate ourselves? If there is anything this book taught me, it is that only statistical probability predicts what the length of our days “ought to be.” The truth is that for most of us who are granted not only more years than Kalanithi’s, but even decades more, often gleefully swim in the waves, casually under-appreciating the possibilities and potential that resides within us to live larger lives.
So, here I am, swimming through the undertow, incorporating the lessons I am learning about what a full life at any age means. And, reading Kalathini motivates me to ask, whether my full time, uncertain and unpredictable though the final number may be, can daily absorb the teachings and experience modeled by my father and Kalanithi.
4 Questions for a Richer Holiday Season & a Fuller New Year
This holiday season, I invite you to reflect on the 4 questions I am contemplating. They can help you respond to the challenge of living your life’s full potential. They derive from Wayne Muller’s wonderful book, How Then, Shall We Live?: Four Simple Questions That Reveal the Beauty and Meaning of Our Lives. Here they are:
· Who am I? (What is my true nature?)
· What do I love? (What calling ignites my passion?)
· How shall I live, knowing I shall die? (Into what activities do I invest my time, talent and energy?)
· What is my gift to the family on Earth? (How to I “pay it forward”, returning to others some consequence of the gifts I have received?)
Enjoy yourselves this holiday season. Sing and be merry. And, as you do, take a few moments to enlarge your enjoyment by spreading and sharing that joy with others.