All That You Can't Leave Behind
Originally published on April 4, 2012
I recently attended the funeral of a good friend’s father. He was Ukrainian, along with most of his relatives and friends, so everything was conducted in his native language. At the brunch after the burial, a woman stood up and read with great emotion what she had written on a few sheets of loose-leaf paper while many of us choked up.
I saw her by the ladies’ room soon after and mentioned how beautiful her speech was. In broken English, she went on about how she messed up and it didn’t come out the way she wanted, etc. I stopped her mid-sentence and said, “I don’t speak a word of Ukrainian.” Puzzled, she replied, “Well, I just spoke from my heart.” And I said, “Yes, that’s why it was so beautiful. ”
I often begin my seminars reminding the attendees that someday, hopefully in the very distant future, they will die. Perhaps it’s morbid, but like change and taxes, death is one of the few certainties in life. When you look at your existence through that lens, before a crisis forces you to do so, it can be extremely powerful in helping to organize your thoughts and actions in a way nothing else can.
When we can accept it, our own mortality, or that of those closest to us, really puts things in perspective: What is it that we value? What and whom do we hold dear? What is real and meaningful for us? And when you look back on your life, how do you want to have used your time and energy while you were here? What is the mark that you want to leave on the world? How do you want people to remember you when you are gone?
Death and dying remind us that when all the external stuff falls away, what’s left? You can’t take that designer bag, fancy car or impressive job title. It cuts to the core and brings us to the one essential thing that every human being desires — to love and to be loved in return.
At the end of the day, all you have is the impact of the life you led, mostly found in close connections with others and memories you’ve shared. You may never know the effect you’ve had on strangers, and family dynamics can of course be complicated, but remember, you choose your friends, and true friends who have been a part of your journey are precious; they are there regardless of too much time having passed or petty misunderstandings.
A crisis will always give us clarity as to what’s important and what we can offer one another. If you let them, all that comes to the surface are love and compassion. And to be there for someone, to have the opportunity to be a healing presence in whatever form that may take, is a gift for both the giver and receiver.
As we start to wind down and reflect on this past year, think about which parts of you can bite the dust, allowing for a rebirth accompanied by a deeper commitment to honor and cherish your relationship with yourself and the healthy ones you have with others, to cultivate new connections that will enrich your journey, and to reaffirm your relationship to life itself.
Not sure what you would want to hear when you go or simply want to develop more fully all that you can’t leave behind? Give me a buzz and I’ll help you Walk On, and be able to feel good about it all, here and now.
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