"Everyone has two lives. A second one begins when you realize you only have one... Hug each other every day. Please know I am OK. Live your lives to the fullest and pray to be happy." -- Steven Sotloff
My friend called me last week to discuss the brutal killing of journalist Steven Sotloff. She told me that the news of his killing, along with the murder of journalist James Foley, had her curled up into a ball in her closet sobbing at the violence of the world we live in. She felt that it was a terrible loss of two brave, good souls who were in the world to make it better.
As we both took a deep breath and long pause I read to her the above quotes from Steven Sotloff's letters, which were secretly smuggled out of the prison camp where he was held. He left us all with a profound gift to reflect upon and possibly integrate into our lives and I wanted my friend to see that light within all of the darkness that she was feeling.
I think most of us know what Steven meant when he said, "Everyone has two lives. A second one begins when you realize you only have one." How many times have we lost a friend or a loved one and committed ourselves to not wasting another minute and appreciating every day of our lives? Or were we sick and got better and said we will never take our lives for granted again? Maybe a terribly stressful situation worked out and we vowed to have more appreciation for what we have and not worry so much.
There are people in the world, like Steven and James, who face unimaginable situations that are truly horrific. But the problems most of us that are reading this post have are less so. For most of us who have a brush with stress, danger or death and vow to appreciate our second lives, as time goes by we often forget our commitment to the preciousness of each moment. The daily stresses of our lives consume our minds and we go on automatic instead of savoring that great cup of coffee, our walk with our child to an appointment or a quiet evening at home. We return to the first part of our lives where we think we can put off the joy and passion for another day in the future. We think if we just put our time in now, there will be time later to enjoy the best of life.
For Steven Sotloff, I suspect his acute awareness of how precious life can be was inescapable and it propelled him to let his family know that every day must be lived to the fullest. It seems he became very familiar with the knowledge that each day can be your last or it can change in a way that leaves you longing for the carefree days when you took it all for granted.
So how do we remember the preciousness of each day of our lives as we live them? For me it has been a practice of gratitude. It's not that we shouldn't get upset about bad things that happen in our lives or the world -- sometimes being upset is the most natural and appropriate response. It is just a matter of allowing our gratitude to grant us perspective on what is important and what we do have. Finding and holding gratitude allows us to position the hurt, stress or upsets we feel in a bigger place - a place that gives us strength to persevere and not let every unpleasant thing that happens ruin our day.
Assuming we are going about our everyday lives with the usual stressors and upsets, gratitude can become a habitual way of thinking in our lives just as easily as the habit of complaining. It is a choice and daily practice to see life in a different way. With gratitude we change our hyper-focus on the things that are bothering us and we expand to see the entire vista of our lives. We stop looking just for the faults and also look for what is wonderful and glorious in the moment. This is beyond being an optimist instead of a pessimist. It is living in our "second life" by seeing life in its entirety and acknowledging everything. In fact, when we do this regularly, we see there is so much to be thankful for and we become aware that so much is going our way. Our minds find more ease in our daily activities and a profound appreciation for our experiences emerges.
Towards the end of our conversation I heard my girlfriend sigh. She said that sometimes she gets so overwhelmed by the bad stories that she hears in the news that she forgets all the good in life. She said that she knows a lot of people that want peace in the world and that have good hearts. She felt so grateful to know them and it gave her hope that the world is filled with more people that want peace than not. She also started listing all the beautiful things that she is grateful for in her life. It made her feel less afraid and very present to her current surroundings. She told me that she felt so full inside that all she wanted to do was go out and help someone else. Her last words before we hung up were "I never thought gratitude would give me hope and strength to be in the moment, but it reminds me of everything that is right in the world and makes me feel that MAYBE one day there will be peace."
My deepest condolences to the Sotloff and Foley families and my gratitude for allowing us all to receive Steven's brave and thoughtful gift -- the profound reminder to find a way to be present in this moment and live life to the fullest.
MAYBE our second life is the one most worth living.