Postcards From The Edge

There’s a story I once heard on the radio and it haunted me for years. A reporter for The New Yorker went to San Francisco to interview the very small group of people who have jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge – and survived. The circumstances that led each of them to hurl their lives away were different, but what they shared afterward was strikingly similar. Each of the jumpers described a moment of clarity, right after jumping, where all they felt was regret. One survivor said that as soon as his hand left the railing, he realized in that moment that everything in his life that he thought was not fixable, was utterly fixable. “As soon as I jumped,” he said. “I realized that my life before was perfect.”

I sometimes see clients who have given up on themselves. They may not be about to jump off a bridge, but they have fallen into the trap of thinking that their problems are so intractable that no solution or change is even possible. They may be coming to see me under orders, or as a last resort, but they are clearly out of touch with what is possible in their lives. I don’t always have immediate answers, but what I usually do is begin some questions.

Are You Following Your Heart?

It sounds very obvious, but are we living courageously with intention, or are we slavishly going through the motions because that’s all that we really expect out of life? After all, isn’t that what everyone else is doing? There are many things in this life that are important, and a whole lot of stuff that isn’t. Knowing the difference is key. The unimportant stuff is infinitely more numerous, and it assails us daily. So we need to be very careful or we can get easily distracted. Being present and accountable to the loved ones in our lives counts a lot. Having the latest Smartphone or the perfect pair of Manolo Blahniks does not. Making something beautiful that others may enjoy or find useful counts a lot. Going shopping because you’re bored does not. Find out what matters to you most, and do more of it.

Much has been made of the passing of Steve Jobs, and rightly so. He lived his life with great courage and intentionality, even in the fading twilight of his recent years. The words used to describe him – rebel, obstinate, perfectionist, troubled – are those we often ascribe to prickly geniuses whose lack of compromise we secretly admire. In his now-famous Stanford Commencement Address, he made the following observation: “Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything – all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”

Are You Living For Today?

A few weeks ago, my family was robbed of a beloved sister. My brother’s wife, Kelly, passed away ten days after giving birth to their first son due to complications from childbirth. She was buried just two days short of their first wedding anniversary. Life transformed in an instant. At 41 years of age, my brother became a widower, and a baby boy will grow up without knowing his mother. Every time I look at him, I’m reminded that nothing is promised in this life, and nothing is owed. You may think you know the shape of your life, or how it’s going to go, then you wake up one day and that shape changes completely. I share this only as a reflection that every life contains losses, some of them unimaginable. But it’s how we respond to them that defines who we are.

After Kelly passed, I watched people pour open their hearts and treasure their loved ones that much more. Hopefully, it does not take for a trauma like this to awaken us from our slumber. We know that everything is impermanent, fleeting. So why do we act as if our time here is infinite? It is not. Today is all we have. The beauty of tragedy is that it awakens us to all those things we had failed to notice before. It is possible to hold both joy and heartache at the same time. With a little practice and attention, we can learn to savor those everyday moments of beauty, grace, courage and dazzling heroism that surround us. This is the good stuff, and it’s right there in front of us. Imagine for a moment that the life you currently have is taken away from you. Everything in it – gone. And then somehow, miraculously, it was granted back to you. Now what would you do?