This is letter four.
This letter is about my favorite line from the musical Hamilton. And about expansion. And contraction.
Soooooo, what line from that fantastic musical do you think is my favorite?
“I am not throwing away my shot.”
While that does tug at my Sagittarius moon’s heartstrings, that’s not it.
“How lucky we are to be alive right now.”
Seems entirely fitting, but no.
“He looked at me like I was stupid, I’m not stupid.”
That is actually my second favorite line! The delivery of it makes me laugh every time (and I think almost every woman can relate to it… am I right, ladies?)
My favorite line was one that when I heard it, time stopped for me. I had to pause the soundtrack (which is how I first devoured this show). I had to sit for several minutes and literally recover from hearing a deep, internal whisper that has always lived inside of me so acutely and publicly articulated by another person.
“I imagine death so much it feels more like a memory.”
You too, Lin-Manuel? I guess so. (See his tweet below.)
Speaking for myself, I don’t walk the Earth paranoid about getting killed or vividly imagining the details of my own demise. But I have thought about death – in the abstract and in the real-world sense – pretty much every day for all of my adult life. And that’s because I’ve thought about life pretty much every day as well.
(I’m not telling you this to appear deep or soulful. If anything, my permanent preoccupation borders on odd.)
But for me, life and death are inseparably fused and always on my mind. I can’t comprehend being able to focus on either one without the other making its presence felt. Each word even appears in the dictionary definition of the other. I have always been intensely interested in life – pondering the “why” of it, wondering how to make the most of it, wrestling with the bittersweetness of it – so I have always had an intense awareness of death.
Case in point: I love libraries with the white hot intensity of a thousand stars (cuz: FREE BOOKS). And also, from a very young age, libraries have been one of the most tangible reminders of my finite lifespan. Libraries uncomfortably squeeze my heart whenever I walk into one. Look at all of the books I can choose from! Look at all of the books I will never get to explore because I don’t have forever.
Sometimes, I think about death in the library sense – how one day every person on the planet right now, including me, will no longer be alive.
Sometimes I think about death in the sense that being alive and actually living are two different things. One of my favorite quotes (which I cut out of an article many moons ago, unfortunately without the attribution) is:
“I think the best we can do on behalf of the dead is to infuriate anyone living who does not live enough.”
Most of the time though, I think about death as it relates to loss – both the big losses that rip irreparable holes in the tapestries of our lives, as well as the thousand little “paper cut losses” that sting and surprise us when they draw blood.
Partly I think about loss because it’s an integral part of achievement and expansion.
To put enough time, energy, and effort towards creating or building or founding or discovering something, demands that you choose that one thing (at least for awhile) – to the exclusion of a thousand other things. And even though each wonderful thing you choose to do is wonderful, that doesn’t mean you won’t grieve a bit for the relationships, opportunities, and possibilities that naturally fall off the cliff once you narrow your focus.
This is especially true as aging starts to steal our energy and abilities. I will always remember the poignant and unexpected chat I had with an organizing client who was in his seventies. He was a nationally renowned expert in his field, and, as we sat together, taking a break from working in his home office, our conversation came around to a gentle acknowledgement of the fact that he probably had the capacity to do one last significant project. His heartache came from the fact that he had multiple projects that he yearned to accomplish before he died. But we both knew that if he didn’t choose one of them, he would likely accomplish none of them.
I also think about loss because achievement and expansion are not preordained.
While some people don’t choose to live fully during the time they are alive, other people can’t live fully during the time they are alive.
Part of what makes me exceptionally good at coaching is that I am on intimate terms with both expansion and contraction. While I am naturally oriented towards growth, and while I am devoted to helping people expand their lives in a wide variety of ways, I am also a witness to what it looks and feels like when a life diminishes – slowly, painfully, and irrevocably.
My witty, powerhouse of a sister is five years younger than me. We are very different people, yet we are equally gifted in terms of intelligence, talent, industriousness, and kindness (although she would argue that she’s much kinder than me, and she’s probably right. She’s also an inch taller. And more stylish.)
She, however, was very ill as a child and her health, as an adult, has been declining steadily and substantially throughout her life. Her friends have long left her (tip: don’t get sick in your 20’s) and she can no longer work. For seven years she lived with me, and I continue to be her primary caregiver and companion. To say these circumstances are heartbreaking would be a vast understatement… but, oh, I have learned a great deal.
This experience with my (only) sibling has given me a visceral understanding that life is as wonderful and malleable as it is unpredictable and fragile. My belief in and attraction to our ability, as humans, to expand, create, and achieve is balanced with my knowledge of how to identify, handle, and surrender to what is and is not within our control.
I suspect you already have first-hand knowledge that the sorrow of loss is entwined with the joy of achieving, and the joy of living is entwined with the sorrow of death. So all this letter really is is one of those small, valuable reminders to enjoy leaping whenever you can.
I genuinely wasn’t expecting these letters to stir up such heartfelt responses, but again… très appréciée! (Maybe it’s Google Translate, maybe it’s Maybelline.)
Next up: the magic I wield over shoelaces.
Happy New Year – we made it!