I want to credit Brittany Maynard, the young woman in Oregon who recently chose to end her life, rather than suffer through the last months of her inoperable brain cancer, for being the inspiration of this piece. This isn’t about Brittany’s decision, but about how she touched my life. How she reminded me of all our lives.
An article about her talked about what a full time on earth she was grateful to have had – kayaking in Patagonia; climbing Kilimanjaro; graduating from college; working with the homeless in America and orphans in Nepal. And finally meeting and marrying the love of her life and planning a family with him. The last thing was the only one she had no time to accomplish.
I remain deeply struck by what makes a life so well lived, that at the young age of 29, even as she wished it had been otherwise, Brittany expressed her appreciation for the fullness of her few years.
The pictures that accompanied the article could belong to any of us – baby and vacation pictures, laughing with girlfriends, hugging her mother, camping with friends, posing in her cheerleading costume, playing with her dogs, sharing a piece of wedding cake with her husband.
They made me think of how our lives are our living scrapbooks. And how whether we have pictures to hold in our hands or keep in our hearts, there are so many precious times.
When you thumb through your most cherished memories, you’ll no doubt find those you would expect to – a special Christmas, a new baby, your wedding, moments of proud accomplishment or triumph in work or creative endeavors.
But put the more obvious memories aside, those that you probably have photos to commemorate, and run through your mind again more slowly. There is surprising treasure in some of the simplest times, the most unremarkable of days – long summer evenings when the sun takes forever to set behind the rim and you sit outside with friends laughing long after the stars have appeared; winter evenings, when there’s nothing cozier than curling up in front of the fireplace or television or with a good book as the early darkness descends; snow falling, softly and magically as you watch from the warm; the deer you surprised on a hike; the waterfalls off the red rocks in heavy rain; the eyes of your children smiling up at you; the dog greeting you as though you’ve been away days instead of hours. These, more often, are what our lives are made of.
Remember also the times you’ve received a kindness; the lady with the basket of groceries who let you with your milk and can of soup ahead of her in the supermarket line; the driver of the big semi who motions he’ll wait for you to cross the street; the librarian who special orders the book they didn’t have; the barista who makes sure your coffee is just right; all the people sitting out in front of City Market helping you register to vote or adopt a pet or support a veteran.
The end of one year before the beginning of the next is an especially meaningful time of leafing through our memories. It’s also the perfect time to contemplate making next year’s.
What are the memories that you don’t want to miss making? What do you want to start? Who do you want to spend more time with? What, in your heart of hearts, do you not want to experience?
And, if you are so inclined, how will you choose to make a difference in the world? The one right in front of you. How might you extend yourself to make life a little better for someone else? Volunteering with one of our many nonprofits? Contributing your time and effort to a cause that you care about? Or simply with a kind word or gesture to a stranger – as well as those you love.
At this time next year, what do you most want to remember?
The perfect time to leaf through the scrapbook, the one you keep in your heart, is when you are falling asleep each night.
Some people call it counting their blessings.
E.J. Gore is the author of “French Lessons” and “The Art of Living and Loving Well.” She is also a screenwriter and life coach.