I’m sitting here looking out on my garden through newly cleaned glass stack doors and the sun is bright, the wind almost nothing and everything is shiny after the rain a day ago. Birds are tweeting and the francolin is screeching over her chicks; even our yappy dogs in the neighbourhood are quiet. Our sausage dog has got the idea: peace and quiet in abundance. Imagine the picture I’m looking at. Close your eyes. Take a deep breath… and another. Take 8 more. Keep your eyes closed and listen to your breathing. Feel alive. Feel refreshed. Feel you.
I’m tired of rehashing the same old news. I discussed this with Vincent and he suggested I run a series on a topic where we all can learn and re-think our lives. I’ve chosen LIFE as the acronym and will write 12 blogs on the inspiration I receive per letter. If something strikes you anew or afresh, tell me. I’ll take your emails with pleasure. If it bores you, tell your partner, or rather, don’t read it 🙂
I’ve just realised Live and Live are spelt the same, but pronounced differently. Live is the act of living and speaks to action, location and relation. Live, if we’re honest sometimes, is what we do. We speak about the rat-race as though we’re looking in on it. We seldom really picture ourselves in it other than when we’re exhausted. Then we tend to feel like we’re a rat in the race. We’re paying bonds, running teams, making kids [just had to put this one in delicately!], making other people happy, putting on a brave face, being nice to people who are bugging us, buying, eating, studying, lending, selling ourselves in service, driving, running, exercising, …do I have yours yet? Just add it, You know what I’m getting at.
We live in a place that FICA wants to know ten times a year. We live in relation to those whom we love, befriend, serve commercially, and fight with. We live with responsibility, duties, accountability, and legality – all connected to the previous relationships and those beyond like our banker, SARS, Home Affairs, doctors, hospitals and insurance companies. By all means, add your own. Then, we have all the media such as news media, social media, marketing media, professional media and every other instruction we get with our new toaster. It is little wonder we feel bewildered at times, tired most evenings and experience the brevity of weekends too soon. To live is hard work and to breathe, as we did above, seems cheesy when you’re so busy.
Live [or, a-Live, if you prefer for the pronunciation], is a biological state. When we live, we breathe, we urinate; we touch, smell, see, taste, hear and think. Dead is the opposite of live and, if you’re reading this, you probably still are alive. Being alive enables us to live – sounds really obvious, but if all live does for us is enable us to live biologically, then we probably look like the person I described above. Enter the higher functions like instinct [which I really believe is the 6th sense, especially for women], common sense, choice, imagination, positive and negative thinking, perspective, direction, purpose, meaning… got yours yet?…and live becomes a-live. Now the total man or woman begins to appear. Ask Vincent the difference between the two – a little baby is born having been attached biologically to her mother. Dependent, screaming, suckling, looking and moving; the baby lives and is a-live so she begins to take on a form that will shape her entire life. Indeed, nature and nurture kick in the day she knows she exists and I have no other word but Miracle to describe that.
So live and live co-exist. They together give us life and living; the one inseparable from the other as we go about our lives. The real issue for us is how to live and come a-live? How do we do that every morning and what does it matter to others whether we fail or succeed? Me, Mine and Ours – self-centeredness of the highest order. Or, Me, Mine and Others to the point of self-sacrifice? Neither is possibly correct, but both call for our attention. Rather than give you a 10-point self-help plan, here are just two things that I’d like to share. The first is, be kind to yourself. The first person I mention, even if it is you most of the time, is doing her best with cards life played her. You may think you’re just coping, but those who depend on you probably see Mom, Wife and Estate Agent; roles that are chosen and lived out with so much dedication.
Don’t allow ingratitude, the sense of being used, anger directed at you and sometimes, the nonchalance of a teenager to be the sole source of your validation. Like me, and many around me, age may have ploughed some wrinkles on your face but so have smiles. Grey hair is inevitable for most of us; in fact, turning grey is simply the hallmark of the next stage of your live-ing. Being kind means looking after yourself, forgiving your past and just learning from it, taking deep breaths purposefully especially when you’re tired or aggravated and then perhaps increasing that to something that really makes you breathe deeply, like walking. Being kind to yourself is not a cliché nor is it cheesy. I’ve made some bad mistakes and if I dwell on them, being kind to myself does not come easy. We all have, and often need the word in season, to be encouraged to have deeply regretful but, nevertheless, learning experiences. Let kindness to yourself make the days you need it to and make the life of gratitude you want to live.
Another simple thing is Others. You see, you may be in the stage of Success – pay the bond, educate the kids, grow your career, support your partner to grow hers. It’s hectic and any calmness I may feel today completely belies the franticness of this stage in my life. Bob Buford, in his book called halftime [a must-read for 45-plussers], calls this stage, success, but perforce, this stage gives way to significance. Sooner or later, our need for speed, gives way to the great life questions: Why am I here? Is this all there is? Where is this sense of my own mortality going to? Seeing this positively, success gives way to significance and significance, for many of us, implies something to do for others. Grandkids, animal rescue, charities, the sick, the homeless, the poor, ageing parents and many other causes [for Buford, the raising of the education bar for schools in America’s poor suburbs – sound familiar?], start to take pre-eminence in our lives.
All of a sudden, we’re empty-nesting and post-menopausal [men as well!!] with time on our hands, the bond is paid and, frankly, most of our earning potential is behind us. Suddenly, significance takes on the meaning and all that stuff like “leaving a legacy” starts to kick in with the time to apply ourselves. Others become meaningful and my closing suggestion is, start thinking about significance now – retiring and then wondering why you’re bored is honestly too late and time wasted. This beautiful, tortured country of ours has tons for people as skilled and connected as you and I, to do. Meaning follows other-centeredness like light follows dark, in my humble opinion.
A closing thought [adapted from a wonderful prayer doing the rounds at the moment on social media]:
This is my prayer for you,
That negative people will be kept at a distance,
That you will be defended,
That you need not be defensive when your name is mentioned,
It’s better to walk away than to live in tension.
But listen to me, I pray that you’ll live life intentionally,
When someone is down you’ll be a friend in their need,
Serve others before you serve yourself.
I pray you’ll live for more than the pursuit of wealth,
That you’ll live vertically and keep your eyes off the horizon,
That you’ll walk high in your worth and let no one tell you that you were made for less,
That you spend your life looking forward and not back,
That you’ll give and get blessed,
That your life is long and your nights are calm,
That your spine stays stiff and you live to fight on,
That you’ll find something for the unique you to believe in,
And that your legacy lives on.