"'Always go to the funeral' means that I have to do the right thing when I really, really don't feel like it"
I have to remind myself of it when I could make some small gesture, but I really don't have to and I definitely don't want to.
I'm talking about those things that represent only inconvenience to me but the world to the other guy: you know, the painfully underattended birthday party, the hospital visit during happy hour, the shivah call for one of my ex's uncles.
In my humdrum life, the daily battle hasn't been good vs. evil. It's hardly so epic. Most days my real battle is doing good vs. doing nothing."
-Deirdre Sullivan, "Always Go to the Funeral," August 8, 2005. NPR Series, "This I Believe"
Isn't it strange how books, teachers, people, podcasts, articles, and experiences sometimes serendipitously arrive on our doorstep, unasked for--but offering exactly what we didn't know we needed to hear? Does that make sense?
This week, three "Wake-Up Call" kind-of-serendipitous lessons literally fell into my lap. Two short videos. One short podcast. Two take place in hospitals. One's about funerals. Hmm. What's the connection here?
All together, they added up to nine powerful minutes out of my week.
Nine minutes that have kind of shaken me up--awakened me --and made me look at my everday life a little differently. Maybe they'll have the same effect upon you.
Here's the strange part. It turns out, all three of the following "on-line learning opportunities" are saying the same thing--sort of.
Many of us have jam-packed schedules. Throw in another obligation, or try to change the way we eat or shop or start an exercise program, or pay closer attention to everyone we have contact with during the day---sometimes it just seems impossible & so overwhelming. Who has the time for it all?
For me, the videos & the podcast were a kick in the pants to recognize what sometimes holds me back from "doing the right thing"!
Honestly, sometimes I just don't feel like it.
The antidote: Habit kicks in.
Bottom line: It's often the inevitable inertia of everyday life -- Aargh, I'm too busy for that right now, it's not a convenient time, & let's face it--what can look like the lack of empathy is more about being too preoccupied or busy to pay attention to what's going on with someone outside of my own inner circle. Just speaking for myself, here.
The Three Kick-In-The-Pants Reminders I Received This Week
1. "Always Go to the Funeral". I deeply regret the ones I've missed--but, shouldn't have. But, I still struggle with how to decide which ones are OK to miss, or which circumstances are excusable. It's not all black & white. Thoughts?
2. "What Will Your Last Ten Years Look Like?" Make your own choice, but it won't happen without making changes, that's for certain.
What Do "Two Hospitals" & "a Funeral" Have in Common?
1. They're about doing the right thing--even when it's inconvenient, even we're too busy right now, even when we can't afford it, even when we can't spare the time or even when we just want to take a pass--this once.
2. "If I waited until I felt like doing it--I'd never do it [you fill in the blanks]"
4. They're about the little things, the small good habits, the better choices, the slight attitude adjustments, when done over & over again slowly change us over time. After awhile, the changes become automatic--it's just what we do. Who we are.
- They can add up to a healthy vibrant last 10 years of life.
- They can add up to making a difference to someone else's life--even if we are unaware of it.
It's the power of habit, that changes us into the people we want to be.
5. It's about overcoming our own inertia and the inconvenience of doing what we'd rather not be doing.
"Smart people who’ve thought about this usually understand that the habits we put into practice end up shaping the people we are within.
-David Brooks, New York Times, "Suffering Fools Gladly"-
What Will Your Last Ten Years Look Like?
Don't miss this one minute video produced by the Canadian Heart & Stroke Foundation.
What will your last 10 years look like?
My eyes filled with tears watching this--memories of my mom & dad. They are the reason I'm so careful about staying health. And so are my grandkids, my husband, & my kids.
Giant thank you to C.S., the Canadian reader who shared this video with me.
Empathy - If You Could Stand in Someone Else's Shoes, Would You Treat Them Differently?
Don't miss this video about EMPATHY--that profoundly challenges us to walk in someone else's shoes.
It has the potential to change your perspective forever. The video was produced by the Cleveland Clini & was featured on the blog of my favorite radio show: "On Being".
Have a kleenex ready.A big thank you to my daughter-in-law who shared this video with me--I missed viewing it when it was shown at work last week. Read the full post about the video here.
"If you could stand in someone else's shoes... Hear what they hear. See what they see. Feel what they feel. Would you treat them differently?"
"These words end this incredibly beautiful video produced by the Cleveland Clinic, a nonprofit medical center that integrates clinical and hospital care with research and education.
This video speaks to each person's complexity,
the stories that go unsaid but float just beneath the surface.
Titled "Empathy," this video was presented by the health care organization's CEO Toby Cosgrove at his annual State of the Clinic address on February 27, 2013. And it gets at a point that immunologist Esther Sternberg explores in her work and personal life: how new knowledge about the physical spaces of our lives can stress us, make us sick, or help us be well and connect with others."
I am forever grateful to Krista Tippett & the producers of "On Being" for the inspiration, the insights, & the new ways they make me think about the world--every Sunday morning on the radio. If you aren't familiar with this award-winning weekly show--I encourage you to discover it on NPR.
-Could a greater miracle take place than for us to look through each others' eyes for one instant?-
Henry David Thoreau
Always Go to the Funeral
Deirdre Sullivan, NPR "This I Believe," August 8, 2005
Listen to Deirdre Sullivan explain why she always goes to the funeral, here
"I believe in always going to the funeral. My father taught me that.
The first time he said it directly to me, I was 16 and trying to get out of going to calling hours for Miss Emerson, my old fifth grade math teacher. I did not want to go. My father was unequivocal.
"Dee," he said, "you're going. Always go to the funeral. Do it for the family."
So my dad waited outside while I went in. It was worse than I thought it would be: I was the only kid there. When the condolence line deposited me in front of Miss Emerson's shell-shocked parents, I stammered out, "Sorry about all this," and stalked away.
But, for that deeply weird expression of sympathy delivered 20 years ago, Miss Emerson's mother still remembers my name and always says hello with tearing eyes.
That was the first time I went un-chaperoned, but my parents had been taking us kids to funerals and calling hours as a matter of course for years. By the time I was 16, I had been to five or six funerals. I remember two things from the funeral circuit: bottomless dishes of free mints and my father saying on the ride home, "You can't come in without going out, kids. Always go to the funeral."
Sounds simple — when someone dies, get in your car and go to calling hours or the funeral. That, I can do. But I think a personal philosophy of going to funerals means more than that.
"Always go to the funeral" means that I have to do the right thing when I really, really don't feel like it.
I have to remind myself of it when I could make some small gesture, but I don't really have to and I definitely don't want to.
I'm talking about those things that represent only inconvenience to me, but the world to the other guy. You know, the painfully under-attended birthday party. The hospital visit during happy hour. The Shiva call for one of my ex's uncles.
In my humdrum life, the daily battle hasn't been good versus evil. It's hardly so epic. Most days, my real battle is doing good versus doing nothing.
In going to funerals, I've come to believe that while I wait to make a grand heroic gesture, I should just stick to the small inconveniences that let me share in life's inevitable, occasional calamity.
On a cold April night three years ago, my father died a quiet death from cancer. His funeral was on a Wednesday, middle of the workweek.
I had been numb for days when, for some reason, during the funeral, I turned and looked back at the folks in the church. The memory of it still takes my breath away.
The most human, powerful and humbling thing I've ever seen was a church at 3:00 on a Wednesday full of inconvenienced people who believe in going to the funeral. [I couldn't agree more.]