"If I Had Ten More Years"
--by Wayne, posted May 2, 2009
About a week before Paul died, I was visiting him one morning. I found him sitting up, propped against a mound of pillows. I sat on the edge of his bed. His bedroom had a beautiful porch with French doors that were always open to the summer sun and gentle breezes. Paul sat, silent, in the rays of the morning light.
"I feel ready to go," he said finally. There was quiet on his face. "But sometimes," he reflected, "I just wish I had more time." Paul's voice carried so much sadness mingled with acceptance, melancholy softened with a gentle peace. In a moment like this, it is bittersweet. Some of our dreams have come true, some have not. There is a readiness to die, accompanied by an equally passionate wish to live. In the light of his few remaining mornings, Paul was reviewing the wishes of a lifetime. I was grateful to be near him.
"I've done so much work to prepare for this moment," he said. "I came to Santa Fe to deepen my life and to learn more about spiritual practice. I've learned yoga, practiced meditation with some wonderful teachers, and I have been loved by many beautiful people. I'm not unhappy with my life. I know I'm clear and whole inside, and when I feel that, I'm not afraid. I know it is time."
Again it was quiet. His words mingled with the morning light and the cool air. "But I also wish I could stay here," he added slowly. A tentative wish, offered against the growing impossibility of its coming true. "I wish I had ten more years, free of this illness. With those ten years, I could really live as I always wanted." We sat for some time in the wake of that wish. It vibrated in the air, this wish for life; it enveloped two men who would someday die. We each felt the truth of it from our particular vantage point that morning.
"What would you do if we could give you those ten years? What would your life look like?" I finally asked.
Paul spoke easily and certainly. "I would be kind."
"I would live my life with kindness," he said. "I would be kind to children. I would teach them to be kind, too. This is all I ever really wanted to do, just to be kind, to be loving." He was quiet for a moment. "A few months ago, when I was feeling quite strong, I thought I would treat myself, so I walked into a bakery and ordered two of my favorite cookies. I told the girl behind the counter that they were my favorite, and she said she loved them, too, but that they were very expensive. When I left, I thought about it for a minute, went back and bought another cookie, and gave it to her. 'This one is for you,' I said. She was so surprised by my kindness. 'You are such a kind man,' she said. I felt absolutely wonderful. Such a small thing, such an easy thing to do. This is how I would live my life, if only I had more time."
In the face of his death, Paul saw his life. His death clarified his heart's desire: to be a kind person. Everything else fell away, and he simply saw what was precious and valuable. To be kind -- this was the most sacred thing, the most perfect and accurate offering he could make.
[From 'How, Then, Shall We Live', by Wayne Muller.]
This story reminded me so much of my dad. He was a prominent academic, very talented, received a lot of accolades and so forth, and yet days before he died of cancer in his mid 50s, he took my hand and said so very earnestly "i just want to be remembered as a kind man. "
His words had a huge impact on me - i was only 26 when he died and have since become a much kinder person, just looking for little opportunities to make people's day, but more than that, listening without judgement to people when they need someone to talk to, and being tolerant and compassionate with people when everyone else is frustrated and snappy, recognising people for things they've done, and offering genuine thanks, that kind of thing.
And the best bit - he was a kind man. Hundreds of people, many of them colleagues, came to his funeral, and what people talked about was not his academic or career success, but little kindnesses he had paid them, often times he'd taken the time to listen when they'd had personal issues going on, or just offered support in a difficult situation or after a hard day.
I was so proud of him, and he would have been so humbled by it. I wish he could have known the impact he'd had - maybe he did.
Because of people like you there is kindness in this world. Because of people like you, the world is still livable.
May kindness be with you always.
My mother now 81 has been the kindest and sweetest person i have ever know. She is selfless,giving, and kind. I don't remember her ever being any other way, we cherish our time with her and hope that she will be with us many more years. But the reality that we live is that we need to spend as much time with her as possable. Her life time of wisdom and caring makes us all better people. We love her dearly. Her name is mom, aunt,sister friend and companion. And her name is esther.