Last week I was stressing about the leak in our shower, and the delivery that was late, and the repairman who failed to show up, and probably half a dozen other things of no particular consequence that I allowed to assume major importance in my life.
And then I heard some news that really was important and everything else fell away. I learned that a friend of mine had suffered a major stroke. Immediately I flashed back on the lunch we had several weeks earlier. She had outlined her plans for the summer, updated me on a one-time colleague, shared her pleasure in the college class she was teaching, and giggled uncontrollably about the unfortunately named sandwich on the menu, “The Veggini.” We don’t meet often, maybe three or four times a year, but it’s always fun and we made casual plans to connect again in early summer.
Neither of us, of course, had any idea what lay in wait. We never do, and it would probably be unbearable if we did. So we live our lives as though we had infinite power and control. We make plans and pronouncements, decisions and declarations and never acknowledge that lurking over our shoulders is the shadow of uncertainty, mortality, time. Many things are in our hands—our attitudes, our choices, our responses to life’s challenges, but the challenges themselves—whether you believe them sent by God or Fate or the Universe or Chance—occur without regard to our preferences or plans.
Part of coping with that unsettling idea is immersing ourselves in the mundane details of daily life, giving far greater weight to the petty grievances, irritations and disappointments that befall us than they deserve. Focusing on the small things helps shield our consciousness from the oppressive awareness that the most important things in life—the happiness, health and safety of those we care about—are largely beyond our ability to control.
To a degree that’s reasonable and necessary; we all have to live in this world and that living entails petty details. But too often we—or maybe I should just step out there and say “I”—get far too caught up in things that really have no bearing on the essence of life: health, love, emotional and spiritual fulfillment. Why does it take something tragic for me to put things in proper perspective? Why every day that I am healthy, that the people I love are safe, that the sun rises in the morning and sets at night, am I not deliriously happy and grateful?
I’m sending out prayers and positive thoughts for my friend, and hoping that I will do a better job of holding in my heart the things that really matter, and let go of the things that don’t.
“Health is the greatest gift, contentment the greatest wealth, faithfulness the best relationship.” ~ Attributed to Buddha, but true no matter who said it.