I went to a wake recently. I didn’t know the deceased, but she was loved by someone I love.
It’s all really just people, in the end, isn’t it? The people you impact up close through your relationships, and the people you impact either directly or indirectly through your vocation.
It’s all people, and their lives that we’re either adding to or detracting from.
It’s all people, which seems simple when you boil it down to that. Except that it’s all people, which means it’s not simple at all. None of it.
Even the timeless and beautiful simplicity of the Golden Rule turns out to be not so simple when applied to the real people we interact with, and their sometimes wildly divergent social and cultural back-stories and worldviews. As Kwame Anthony Appiah writes in Cosmopolitanism,
“So, when I think about what I should do unto others, is what matters whether I’d like it done to me with my actual values and beliefs, or is what matters whether I’d like it done to me if I had their values and beliefs?
People aren’t simple. Loving people well over a long period of time isn’t simple; nor is figuring out how to make the most positive impact on the most people through the work that we invest in.
But usually, there is at least one simple way to be good to one person at any one given moment.
To offer the tea. The encouragement. The listening ear.
Because we always, every second, have the capacity to impact the quality of a moment for another person.
Will we colour the moments of other people by default – unthinkingly, inconsistently, even unkindly? Or will we colour each other’s moments by design – filling them with life, with courage, with love?
If our deliberate life stops at the borders of our own hearts and minds, then what kind of a life will that be? But if our lives deliberately enrich the lives of other people – that will be a life of moments worth celebrating.
It is an art, according to Henry David Thoreau, the writer who inspired this site. In his words, “To affect the quality of the day, that is the highest of arts.”
At the wake, I started chatting with a couple I met there, and we started reflecting on different funerals we’d been to, and how different the experiences can be. They talked about one particular gentleman’s funeral they attended which had been especially moving – how he had managed to build relationships with so many different groups of people, and created so many special memories for them all.
One of them commented, “He really showed up for life.”
That comment captured me.
To show up for life.
Surely that is how we affect the quality of each other’s moments. By not just being around, but by being authentically present. Not just there, but there.
Undistracted. All in.
Sarah Ban Breathnach says that “The authentic self is the soul made visible”.
It requires courage to show up for life like that – unafraid and unconcealed. It requires us to live brave.
But when we do, we create the opportunity for moments that bring life. To the people around us, and to the people we want to be.