I don’t know who said this, but would like to meet him/her. Awesome words:
I love unmade beds. I love when people are drunk and crying and cannot be anything but honest in that moment. I love the look in people’s eyes when they realize they’re in love. I love the way people look when they first wake up and they’ve forgotten their surroundings. I love the gasp people take when their favorite character dies. I love when people close their eyes and drift to somewhere in the clouds. I fall in love with people and their honest moments all the time. I fall in love with their breakdowns and their smeared makeup and their daydreams. Honesty is just too beautiful to ever put into words.
More and more, it’s the honest people who inspire me; not the religious, the spiritual, the optimists or the intelligent. But the honest; those who have been touched by the harshest parts of life and its left them real but not bitter, compassionate, wise, brave, shaken but not stirred. I don’t want to be told I will live forever. I don’t want to be told “it’s all good”. I’m not impressed by wealth or moved by fame. I love the solidarity that comes with shared humanity.
In Jeremy Rifkin’s book “The Empathic Civilization” he says that we are softwired for empathy because we share a common fate. We’re all mortal. He says,
We have the whiff of death in empathy, and the celebration of life. And we show solidarity with our compassion. Empathy is the opposite of Utopia. There is no empathy in Heaven, I guarantee you, I’ll tell you before you get there. There isn’t any empathy in Heaven because there’s no mortality. There’s no empathy in Utopia because there is no suffering. Empathy is grounded in the acknowledgement of death and the celebration of life and rooting for each other to flourish and be. It’s based on our fragilities and imperfections. So when we talk about building an empathic civilization, we’re not talking about Utopia. We’re talking about the ability of human beings to show solidarity not only with each other, but our fellow creatures who have a one and only life on this little planet.
A cab driver was called to a building at 2.30 in the morning. The driver walked to the door and knocked. After a long pause, the door opened. A small woman in her 80′s stood before him. She was wearing a print dress and a pillbox hat with a veil pinned on it, like somebody out of a 1940s movie. By her side was a small nylon suitcase. The apartment looked as if no one had lived in it for years. All the furniture was covered with sheets. There were no clocks on the walls, no knickknacks or utensils on the counters. In the corner was a cardboard box filled with photos and glassware.
She took his arm and they walked slowly to the cab. When they got in the cab, she gave him an address, and then asked, “Could you drive through downtown?”
“It’s not the shortest way,” he answered quickly.
“Oh, I don’t mind,” she said. “I’m in no hurry. I’m on my way to hospice.”
Her eyes were glistening.
“I don’t have any family left,” she continued. “The doctor says I don t have very long.”
The driver reached over and shut off the meter.
For the next four hours, they drove through the city. She showed him the building where she had once worked as an elevator operator. They drove through the neighborhood where she and her husband had lived when they were newlyweds. She had him pull up in front of a furniture warehouse that had once been a ballroom where she had gone dancing as a girl.
Sometimes she’d ask him to slow in front of a particular building or corner and would sit staring into the darkness, saying nothing.
As the first hint of sun, she suddenly said, I’m tired. Let’s go now.”
They drove in silence to the hospice.
Orderlies helped the woman out of the cab. The cab door shut. It was the sound of the closing of a life.
The driver didn’t pick up any more passengers that shift. He just drove around lost in thought at the privilege of sharing in the final journey of this fragile woman.
Its true for all of us. If you have opportunity to make another person’s life gentler, even in one moment, especially as they contemplate their own mortality, then that is the most important thing you will ever do.
One of the saddest funerals I ever led was for a woman in Sydney. The only person who attended the funeral was the woman’s sister. She was a tiny frail woman. It seemed like she would blow away if the wind picked up. The two sisters had lived together, alone, for years with no other family. I was overwhelmed with compassion for this woman. It struck me that she only had a few years left in this world, and that one day I would be taking her funeral and there would likely not be a single person present. That’s exactly what happened about 2 years later.
Imagine if we treated everyone we met as if they were on their way to hospice. We’d switch off the meter of striving and busyness and just be present and kind.
Og Mandino said it beautifully,
Beginning today, treat everyone you meet as if they were going to be dead by midnight. Extend to them all the care, kindness and understanding you can muster, and do it with no thought of any reward. Your life will never be the same again.