Monday, October 20, 2014

We are not our things; our things are not us

We visit our Montana kin, circa 2005
I've been quiet for a little bit, and part of that is because we have experienced two deaths in our community and family over the past week. Through the course of a single weekend, two people who meant a great deal to our lives passed away.

A friend and colleague passed away from complications of an auto-immune disease. Alan was my husband's first boss and became both a mentor and then a dear friend.

He was 71 and had just been convinced to retire to spend more time and be able to travel with his husband.

Then only a few days later, our cousin Frani died in her beloved home, with her husband at her side, after choosing to halt treatments for cancer just a few weeks earlier. She is the woman in the center of the photo above.

Frani and her husband, Kim, lived in a log cabin they built themselves from logs they had cleared from their land on the top of a mountain in Montana. We were some of the few brave family souls who loved to visit in deep winter and experience the beautiful solitude of their magical home and their generous, loving hospitality.


It's so easy to get caught up in minutia; to blow out of proportion slights, irritations, disappointments, and material losses. I know I am not immune. So much of what we worry about is caught up in ego and fear. We are always grasping for more - more money, more fame, more recognition, more things - and lose sight of what makes our lives truly meaningful. For me, that is the web of connection with friends and family and community, and remembering to take (and make) the time to honor that.


We are not our things; our things are not us. We are also not better or worse, more or less deserving than the people around us. It is so easy to lose sight of that in our endless striving.


Yesterday I followed a link to an article in the Guardian detailing how an author, feeling slighted and humiliated by a negative review, stalked (her word) the reviewer, both online and in real life, going so far as to visit the reviewer at her home.

Perhaps the piece was meant to be snarky and amusing; I found it sad.

We are not our things; our things are not us. This is even more true for creative people. We think of our work as 'our baby', or a reflection of our deepest selves. Therefore, rejection becomes a personal attack that we must defend against.

But when we are just a memory in the lives of our loved ones, will a bad review, poor sales, or even never getting to publish matter? How will you want to be remembered?


We are not our things; our things are not us.

Rather, we are the sum of our choices and our actions. 


Yesterday, I had the chance to walk through the Mt. Auburn cemetery with my dear friend, Diane, who was visiting for the weekend. We paused to read many of the headstones, and one, in particular, moved me. I don't remember the family name and I didn't take a photo, but the man had been a scion of early Boston, a man of wealth and influence. In 1850, he lost his wife and daughter about 6 months apart. Then a few years later, his son died in the Civil War. He then dedicated his life to opening primary schools. I can't help but think his actions were related to his losses.


Life is precious and fleeting. There is none of us who will not experience loss. If I could reach out to that aggrieved author, I would ask her why she needs to define her self and self worth by what others think of something she's created. I would invite her to walk in the cemetery with me and reflect on the nature of impermanence and loss.


I will continue to think about Alan and Frani, and what these two individuals have meant in our lives.  I will grieve their loss and celebrate their memory. And in honoring who they were, I will focus on what is important, letting go of all the rest.

I invite you to walk with me on that path.

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