I read the essay A Moral Bucket List by David Brooks in the New York Times last week. I shouted YES after I finished reading it. I might have even pumped my fist in the air. This one is a keeper, and I officially will add it to my Gospel of Really Good Writing That Tells The Truth.
There are so many gold nuggets of phrases and ideas in this piece that you should just go read it yourself. Brooks talks about collecting virtues that you’d want mentioned in your eulogy, like being brave, honest and faithful. He says that suffering introduces you to yourself and reminds you that you are not the person you thought you were. And this: ‘…and at moments of rare joy…the ego rests.’
If you’ve never been humbled in your life, don’t bother reading this because it will make absolutely no sense to you at all.
Yesterday, a scrabbly-looking old man came up to me in Langley asking for directions. Now I’ve been to Langley like twice in my entire life, so I’m hardly a local. But I knew that he had just asked some other people to help him, and they had turned him away. So he and I stood and looked at the address on the envelope he was holding. I punched the numbers into the map app on my phone. I asked him if he was walking or driving. Walking, he said. We figured out the address was a six minute walk, and I pointed the way, citing landmarks. He was so relieved I helped him. It took all of four minutes of my time. Afterward this simple task, I felt as if I had contributed some material towards my eulogy.
But before my head gets too big, I also like to remind myself how I have fallen.
I try to be kind, but if people piss me off, I’m not kind at all. I do not feel kind towards my husband’s ex-wife or certain politicians, for instance. I also feel no kindness towards the psychologist who wants to administer an IQ test to my kid with Down syndrome. (In fact, part of my demonstration of unkindness is mentioning these people in this piece). See what I mean? If you wrong me, I will also write about you. That’s not a very nice thing to do.
I’ve also yelled at my kids, especially my older ones. I made some bad dating decisions when I was a single mom. I’m flawed in my relationship with food. I try to be brave, but am a bundle of anxiety before speaking engagements. I like nice hotels a bit too much. My ego gets in the way when I want to shout: DO YOU KNOW WHERE I HAVE BEEN PUBLISHED? (That’s terrible, I know. I’ve never actually said that out loud, but I’ve thought it a few times). I check my Facebook, Instagram and Twitter feeds for notifications too often.
I think David Brooks would say this is all ok because I realize my limitations and I work to overcome them. I am so very passionate about love, kindness and compassion in health care that I do not even bother to contain this passion, and I have turned into one of those lucky people who does what she loves for a living. I hope this drives me towards the good, if I can keep my damn ego and that voice that administers negative self-talk out of the way. I feel extremely lucky most of the time, and sometimes I even feel blessed.
I’m going to keep aspiring to be a ‘stumbler.’ If we are lurching through life unbalanced, that means we have dropped all notion of even attempting to be perfect or normal. (Both of which do not exist by the way). I’ve significantly pushed off my pedestal twice: once when my first marriage split up, and another when my youngest kid was born with a disability. And then I’ve been pushed off so many times since that I don’t even bother crawling back up there anymore.
I’ve also had glimpses into those beautiful moments of true joy, where I realized that life is not in black and white – it exists in a stunning rainbow of colour. These moments only come when we open our hearts to everybody, including ourselves.
You see, there is an invisible current of life, just below the surface. If you are quiet and humble and good, you will soon discover that secret place – that’s where all the magic lives.