My father-in-law is dying. He most likely has only weeks to live. As dying goes, he’s doing it really well, surrounded by loved ones, with good professional home-hospice care. He’s a renowned poet and translator, well respected, loved by hundreds if not thousands of students, ex-students, colleagues, friends, and family. He’s lived a full, uncompromising life, and was lucky enough to fall deeply in love, once again, in the last few months. The house where he’s staying, in the Berkeley hills, has a stupendous view of the bay. He’s cogent, self-aware, and taking on this final challenge with grace, courage, and an open heart.
The situation has made me think about what’s important in life. That’s something I think about a lot, but now more so than ever.
A good life is made of small things: the activities we enjoy and find meaningful, that we do every day or every week, both on our own, and with people we like or love.
That’s pretty much it.
Sure, we need shelter and food, some source of income, medical care, not to be in fear for our lives. The basic necessities. Every other need/level of fulfillment that Maslow stacked on top of physiological and safety can be satisfied by simple activities.
For me those activities are writing, exercising, meals and fun times with my family, dates with my wife, making a sick beat, rolling polyhedral dice while imagining I’m a wizard, slamming a rubber ball around a court, painting miniatures, reading great books, a few minutes of meditation here and there. Small stuff.
Life gets bigger, with grand adventures, and achievements, and meeting important people, and acquiring new skills and talents, and accumulating resources and fancy possessions. But bigger doesn’t necessarily mean better. If your life gets bigger, but veers away from your values and essential nature, you’re stuck with the wrong life, and you have to reboot the whole system.
I recently signed a book deal. After all these years of grinding, I’m going to be a novelist. It’s exciting!
But the feeling is fleeting. The feeling that sustains me is from putting the words on the page. Or on this blog.
It’s important to prioritize the small, important things over chasing those fleeting moments. There’s nothing wrong with wanting a bigger life. But it’s not as important as living a meaningful, enjoyable life.
UPDATE 1/18/18: My father-in-law John Oliver Simon passed away early Tuesday morning. I wrote his obituary, which was a challenge, considering the scope of his life, relationships, and accomplishments. A copy can be found here.
I’ll miss him.