Life Well Lived: What Does It Mean?

Have you ever noticed that when the person giving the eulogy is marching through the litany of the deceased's achievements and honors, the room flatlines? But the moment mention is made of what the deceased loved, the room comes alive.
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"The bus is loading up." At least, that's what my soul sister Judith Rich and I call it when death is in the air, and our friends are traveling into realms beyond where our progressive lens can see, or our monkey minds can fathom. Funny, or not so funny, how death seems to come in clusters. What's that old adage about the Big D coming to gather in threes? And, when it does arrive at our door, let us hope that it does so only when we have cultivated a well-lived life.

Having attended and delivered far too many memorial services over the past year, there has been more than ample opportunity to notice whose life seems to have been best lived, and whose remained anemic. For one thing, have you ever noticed that when the speaker is marching through the litany of achievements and honors of the deceased's résum@eacute;, the room "flatlines," faces going pale? But the nanosecond mention is made of what the "graduate" loved, the room comes alive. It's as if the heat's been turned up a notch, and waves of animation move through the crowd. People become animated, some finding the freedom to smile or chuckle.

When we remember how love shows itself through the people we love, regardless of whether we just met or have known them for years, and when we recall what brought joy forward through their life, we are blessed. "Re-membering" what moved our loved one's heart the most leaves in their wake a legacy. There's a hint here for we who have been left behind.

What is a well-lived life? What is the story beneath their story that makes you pay attention? How do you measure those who have lived beautifully? Is it their bank account? Their collectibles? Their charitable offerings? Is it their public acclaim? Their fame? Is it their travels? Who they knew? If you say you do not know, look back. What has touched you most deeply through the life of someone you've loved? Whatever it is, this is your underground criteria for happiness and whole-hearted living. If you want to live with resilience and well-being, this question is well worth considering. What attracts you does so because there is a resonance with your own unlived life. It is a nudge from that which transcends our intellect and lives in the silence of the heart.

Avoiding what brings us alive produces injury. I was reminded of this last week, in the response to the piece, "How to Protect Yourself from Narcissists." A great deal of commentary followed from readers describing situations in which they had been recipients of all sorts of woundedness inflicted at the hands of those who call themselves loving. I suspect that if any of the culprits died, there would be secret dancing on a grave or two.

What I know for certain is this. Love never tears others down or destroys. Love constructs, creating from what's best in us. Love invites forward what's hidden within our beautiful and private nature. Love encourages us to make who we really are known. Love encourages us to seize this new day for higher purpose. It does not even matter what this purpose is.

Just yesterday, I met Hank, a well-tanned, white-ponytail-sporting elder from Kitsap County, Wash. who has become a volunteer beekeeper as his way of healing the planet. Hank put it this way:

I always loved that ... song "A New Life," but never knew what a new dream might be for me. I've spent too many of my years in engineering, trying to figure out more efficient ways of insuring profit for food companies in California. Turns out that what I was doing was harming future generations, and I didn't even know it. The almighty buck was more important to me than finding out. Now, I realize that with all the pesticides and corporate greed, the bees are dying because of it, which means that four out of ten bites of food will not be available in the future for my children and great grandbabies because it takes healthy bees to fertilize the crops. Without them, we all suffer. Now, my life is about payback time.

Hank came to the Lynwood Theatre, along with a number of us, to see an amazing film by Taggart Siegel that documents the plight of our world with the diminishment of the bee population. It is called "Queen of the Sun."

I don't know about you, but Hank and people like him inspire me to do better. While becoming a beekeeper may not be in my future (I'm very allergic to bees!), this does not let me off the hook for what I can contribute. When we know better, we truly do have the choice to do better. We all make poorly informed choices, at times, if we are willing to be honest. Sometimes our motivations for what we do are not so praiseworthy. It is another thing to shift mid-gear, despite fear of the consequences, and go on to make a bigger difference, be it behind the scenes or on stage.

Through their invitation, those who live well offer us the opportunity to heal, to cherish the gift of life, to pay it forward so that others might thrive, instead of settling for what's comfortable, familiar and popular. When Hank began studying beekeeping, his peers laughed, made fun, told him to "forget about it." But, as I mentioned last week, "Love cherishes, not diminishes." By committing to a new life, Hank has gone on to expand his circle, which includes others who have found a way to redirect their lives to what is a higher calling for them. Maybe it is not your way, or mine, but this does not matter. What does matter is that we find our own and live it.

These are the words from the song to which Hank was referring:

A new life, what I wouldn't give

To have a new life

One thing I have learned as I go through life

Nothing is for free along the way

A new start, that's the thing I need

To give me new heart

Half a chance in life to find a new part

Just a simple role that I can play

A new hope, something to convince me

To renew hope

A new day, bright enough to help me

Find my way

Your turn: What is a well-lived life? Let's create an inventory together. What is the story beneath the story of those who most uplift you and touch your heart? How do you measure those who have lived beautifully? What helps you today to do better by their example? I'm listening, and learning from you, my teachers.

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