I promise to get off this “if you were going to croak tomorrow” kick after today. I just have been in a reflective mood lately because I’ve noticed that the ages of persons posted in the obituaries seem to be decreasing … or maybe I’m getting older, so many of the folks that have passed away are just a few years older than me? Which makes me want to get my life in order. Pronto. As if that can happen in an afternoon of writing out “rules for living.”
The exercise of coming up with my own philosophy (“This I Believe”) was a good one … to clear my head of old ideas in order make room for new opinions, based on all my experiences. And from all the fascinating comments posted on the “This I Believe” thread at Group Beyond Blue at Beliefnet’s Community, it seems to have been a good exercise for you as well. (If you haven’t already, check out all the essays posted on the “This I Believe” discussion thread at Group Beyond Blue.)
So I decided to go back over the NPR essays and pull sentences from different essays, to assemble a collage of the philosophies that I liked … ideas that could help me in my recovery from depression and anxiety, and statements that might direct me to wholeness and healing.
Here they are. My 11 Rules to Live (and Die) By …
1. Be Cool to the Pizza Dude
Coolness to the pizza delivery dude is a practice in humility and forgiveness. I let him cut me off in traffic, let him safely hit the exit ramp from the left lane, let him forget to use his blinker without extending any of my digits out the window or toward my horn because there should be one moment in my harried life when a care may encroach or cut off or pass ad I let it go.
Sometimes when I have become so certain of my ownership of my lane, daring anyone to challenge me, the pizza dude speeds by in his rusted Chevette. His pizza light atop his car glowing like a beacon reminds me to check myself as I flow through the world. After all, the dude is delivering pizza to young and old, families and singletons, gays and straights, blacks, whites, and browns, rich and poor, and vegetarians and meat lovers alike. As he journeys, I give safe passage, practice restraint, show courtesy, and contain my anger.
–Sarah Adams, English professor at Olympic College in Washington
2. Give, Give, Give
Paralyzed and silent in her bed, my daughter Paula taught me a lesson that is now my mantra: You only have what you give. It’s by spending yourself that you become rich. …The pain of losing my child was a cleansing experience. I had to throw overboard all excess baggage and keep only what is essential. Because of Paula, I don’t cling to anything anymore. Now I like to give much more than I receive. I am happier when I love than when I am loved. I adore my husband, my son, my grandchildren, my mother, my dog, and frankly I don’t know if they even like me. But who cares? Loving them is my joy.
Give, give, give–what is the point of having experience, knowledge, or talent if I don’t give it away? Of having stories if I don’t tell them to others? Of having wealth if I don’t share it? I don’t intend to be cremated with any of it! It is in giving that I connect with others, with the world, and with the divine. In is in giving that I feel the spirit of my daughter inside me, like a soft presence.
–Isabel Allende is the author of “The House of the Spirits” and “My Invented Country”
3. Be Capable of Change
I believe that man’s noblest endowment is his capacity to change…. I believe in the potential of people. I cannot rest passively with those who give up in the name of “human nature.” Human nature is only animal nature if it is obligated to remain static. Without growth, without metamorphosis, there is no godhead. If we believe that man can never achieve a society without wars, then we are condemned to wars forever. This is the easy way. But the laborious, loving way, the way of dignity and divinity, presupposes a belief in people and in their capacity to change, grow, communicate, and love.
–Leonard Bernstein is a composer, conductor, pianist, and educator.
4. Be Still and Listen
I believe I have to remove myself from the voices that barrage me in order to find my true compass. This includes a daily walk just to listen. The guiding light of my life is the still, small voice of the Holy Spirit. In our hectic, noisy world, I have to slow down or withdraw in order to hear it. Prayer, I have discovered, is less about what I say and more about what I hear….
I believe in a daily walk to listen because that is when I am close to God, that is when I find my way. And I am most at peace when I tune out the voices of the world long enough to hear the still, small voice of God directing me. “Be still,” Psalm 46 reminds me, “and know that I am God.”
–Susan Cosio is a chaplain at Sutter Medical Center in Sacramento, California
5. Be Present
I believe in the power of presence.
I was recently reminded of this belief when I and several other Red Cross volunteers met a group of evacuees from Hurricane Katrina. We were there, as mental health professionals, to offer “psychological first aid.” Despite all the training in how to “debrief,” to educate about stress reactions, and to screen for those needing therapy, I was struck again by the simple healing power of presence. …Presence is a noun, not a verb; it is a state of being, not doing. States of being are not highly valued in a culture that places a high priority on doing. Yet, true presence or “being with” another person carries with it a silent power–to bear witness to a passage, to help carry an emotional burden, or to begin a healing process. In it, there is an intimate connection with another that is perhaps too seldom felt in a society that strives for ever-faster “connectivity.”
With therapy clients, I am still pulled by the need to do more than be, yet repeatedly struck by the healing power of connection created by being fully there in the quiet understanding of another. I believe in the power of presence, and is it not only something we give to others. It always changes me–and always for the better.
–Debbie Hall is a psychologist in the Pediatrics Department of San Diego’s Naval Medical Center.
6. Pursue Truth
There is such a thing as truth, but we often have a vested interest in ignoring it or outright denying it. Also, it’s not just thinking something that makes it true. Truth is not relative. It’s not subjective. It may be elusive or hidden. People may wish to disregard it. But there is such thing as truth and the pursuit of truth: trying to figure out what has really happened, trying to figure out how things really are. …
It’s not that we find truth with a big “T.” We investigate and sometimes we find things out and sometimes we don’t. There’s no way to know in advance. It’s just that we have to proceed as though there are answers to questions. We must proceed as though, in principle, we can find things out–even if we can’t. The alternative is unacceptable.
–Errol Morris is an Academy Award-winning documentary filmmaker and the director of critically acclaimed television programs and commercials.
7. Live in the Middle
I believe in the 50-percent theory. Half the time things are better than normal; the other half, they are worse. I believe life is a pendulum swing. It takes time and experience to understand what normal is, and that gives me the perspective to deal with the surprises of the future. … But there is a vast meadow of life in the middle, where the bad and the good flip-flop acrobatically. This is what convinces me to believe in the 50-percent theory.
–Steve Porter coaches, watches baseball, and works in community relations for the Missouri Department of Transporation
8. Get Angry
I believe that a little outrage can take you a long way. … I am deeply familiar with that hollow place that outrage carves in your soul. I’ve fed off of it to sustain my work for many years. But it hasn’t eaten me away completely, maybe because the hollow place gets filled with other, more powerful things like compassion, faith, family, music, the goodness of people around me. These things fill me up and tempter my outrage with a deep sense of gratitude that I have the privilege of doing my small part to make things better.
–Cecilia Munoz is vice president of the Office of Research, Advocacy, and Legislation at the National Council of La Raza, and works on behalf of Hispanic-Americans.
9. Go to the Funeral
I believe in always going to the funeral. My father taught me that…. “Always go to the funeral” means that I have to do the right thing when I really, really don’t feel like it. I have to remind myself of it when I could make some small gesture, but I don’t really have to and I definitely don’t want to. I’m talking about those things that represent only inconvenience to me, but the world to the other guy. You know, the painfully under-attended birthday party. The hospital visit during happy hour. The shiva call for one of my ex’s uncles. In my humdrum life, the daily battle hasn’t been good versus evil. It’s hardly so epic. Most days, my real battle is doing good versus doing nothing.
In going to the funerals, I’ve come to believe that while I wait to make a grand heroic gesture, I should just stick to the small inconveniences that let me share in life’s inevitable, occasional calamity.
–Deirdre Sullivan is a freelance attorney living in Brooklyn.
10. Be Creative
I believe that what we often call survival skills is simply creativity at work.
When I think about how my mother fed all seven of us, making us think that every day was a “different meal,” I still appreciate how much a creative cook can do with a single potato…. Many of life’s challenges need creative solutions. I believe creativity–in all its many forms–can change the way we think and operate. Celebrating the creativity around us helps maintain our sanity and keeps us happy.
–Frank Walker is assistant professor of English at Eastern Kentucky University
11. Be Extraordinary
I believe it is possible for ordinary people to achieve extraordinary things. For me, the difference between “ordinary” and an “extraordinary” person is not the title that person might have, but what they do to make the world a better place for us all. … And I believe that if enough ordinary people back up our desire for a better world with action, we can, in fact, accomplish absolutely extraordinary things.
–Jody Williams is the founding coordinator of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines, which was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997.