Tuesday, December 8, 2009

A Life Well-Lived

At the beginning of his book, A Path With Heart, Jack Kornfield describes what it means to live a life that is connected to our deepest spiritual nature:
The things that matter most in our lives are not fantastic or grand. They are the moments when we touch one another, when we are there in the most attentive or caring way. This simple and profound intimacy is the love that we all long for...

When we bring full attention to our acts, when we express our love and see the preciousness of life, the quality of goodness in us grows. A simple caring presence can begin to permeate more moments of our life...

In the stress and complexity of our lives, we may forget our deepest intentions. But when people come to the end of their life and look back, the questions that they most often ask are not usually, "How much is in my bank account?" or "How many books did I write?" or "What did I build?" or the like. If you have the privilege of being with a person who is aware...you find the questions such a person asks are very simple: "Did I love well?" "Did I live fully?" "Did I learn to let go?"
Last Sunday afternoon, Kathy and I attended a birthday brunch for one of her oldest and dearest friends. The brunch was hosted by a woman who has been a fixture in the New York and Los Angeles entertainment scene since the early 1950's. After we had eaten, our friend asked the hostess to recount some of the highlights of the last fifty-odd years. "Can you tell us the story of how you met Howard Hughes?" he asked her. Her voice was just barely above a whisper as she told the story, and you could feel the dozen or so people in the room straining to hear every word.

And it started from there. Other names and stories came forth from this petite, vibrant woman, now in her late '70's. There was the story of how her friend, fellow race car driver, and legendary actor, James Dean, was planning to rendezvous with her later on the same day that he would die in an auto accident. How she had befriended Jim Morrison of the Doors, who would call her from all over the world to get her opinion on his latest poetry.

Other names from a golden age of entertainment came and went; Frank Sinatra, Marlon Brando, and Johnny Carson, among them. Most moving of all, however, were the memories of her dearest friend and lifelong companion, author Truman Capote, who lived with her when he was in Los Angeles, and who literally died in her arms.

Our hostess was crying, now, along with nearly everyone in the room. She has not told these stories to a lot of people, but felt safe with this group, even though she had never met some of us, including Kathy or me.

Her stories were not just a litany of famous people. Each one carried with it a sense of open-hearted love and devotion. It was not the name or position of the person that mattered, it was the quality of the relationship to that person that was most important.

When she was done, she announced between dabbing her eyes with a tissue, "And now, we'll have a little birthday cake and open presents!" After she'd left the room to attend to these matters, I turned to Kathy. We looked at each other with expressions of amazement, and through eyes brimming with tears, and realized that we had been holding our breath. "That," Kathy pronounced as she finally exhaled, "Is a life well-lived."

From the last fragment of the last poem by Raymond Carver:
And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?
I did.
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth.

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