As Covid 19 upends every part of life, it’s hard not to worry.
Personally, I worry about family, friends, money, the future, and of course – about myself. What happens if I get sick?
I try not to dwell on it too much – but it’s certainly there. If I was diagnosed: would I make it? I don’t think I’m afraid of dying (mostly, sort of), but I certainly don’t want to.
But being hunkered down has made me think a little bit more about mortality, and about what I have, and the life I’ve lived.
I’ve had a great run. Undeserved love, great friendships, wonderful children, career success - and even now, in the midst of this crazy time - I’m sheltering-in-place with a saint. When I pray, I really and truly give thanks, and let God know I know how blessed I am.
Sure it hasn’t been all roses, and I’m not a fool – I know I’ve missed a beat or two in life – but I’ve learned to say thank you.
Most of all I say thank you for Life.
The life, the life I’ve lived and the life I still cling to, with all its undone hopes and unfulfilled dreams. If I don’t fall ill, if I get more time, what will I do? Have I learned anything through this pandemic? Is there a deeper meaning for me? And if I find it, how will it change me?
When I find myself too wound up with thoughts of mortality and purpose, my mind drifts to the spring of 1979, when I had a particularly profound run-in with one of life’s quiet secrets.
I was a college student at the time, and I was walking in the hills north of Santa Fe on a lovely clear day with a man named Hugh Prather. He was a successful writer with several best-selling books - and more importantly, he was a friend and mentor.
I had met Hugh a few years earlier by chance in a bookstore while buying one of his books, and a friendship had developed.
Hugh was a deeply spiritual man. He wrote and spoke in short, self-help koans and affirmations that he called “notes”. These notes were successfully spoofed years later on Saturday Night Live as Deep Thoughts by Jack Handy.
Hugh seemed extraordinarily wise to me, and I hung on his every word. Early in our friendship, he had mentioned something in passing once, that there were Principles at work in the Universe and if we understood them and aligned with them, our lives would be happier and more meaningful.
Of course I asked about these Principles, thinking I could short-cut my way to early success in life. I can remember peppering him with questions about life, and receiving his gentle smile in response. “One day,” he said, “when I think you’re ready to hear it, I’ll tell you the Secret of Life; The Principle of Principles.”
I made him promise then and there he would indeed some day tell me. And then on that spring day in 1979, he did.
We were walking and I was talking. Hugh was an unusually gracious listener, a supportive, and wise soul to a young man eager to get on with his life, and I was a lengthy talker.
As we marveled at the vast blue sky over the Sangre de Cristo Mountains and the quality of light found only in Northern New Mexico, he casually asked me if I still wanted to know the Secret of Life.
I practically screamed. “Absolutely!”
Looking at me he quietly said, “Well, the Secret of Life is to be helpful.” I remember him saying it again, probably due to the puzzled and disappointed look on my face. “The Secret of Life is being helpful.” That was more than forty years ago.
Today, I’m watching now with immense gratitude the emergency room personnel, first responders, truck drivers and delivery workers, the good folks at my local Post Office, Jewel and Walgreen’s, and the wonderful staff at my Mom’s nursing home, all being helpful - often at great risk to their own health and wellbeing. I am in awe of their compassion and selfless bravery.
Yes, the Secret of Life is being helpful - and each day we’re seeing that truth borne out in the undeniable courage of the everyday heroes and helpers on the front lines of this pandemic.
I’ve thought about being helpful often. How can I help the people I work with, how can I help my family, my community?
How can you and I, dear reader, help each other? And who can we help today as well?