I’d be satisfied if over the course of my life I have nudged even a few people one step forward on their own paths to transformation. Now, as I embrace a new chapter here in Canada, I owe a big nudge in my own thinking to Howard Thurman, one of the great Americans of the Civil Rights Movement, who served quietly as mentor to Dr. King and other movement leaders, and as an author and theologian over the course of a long, distinguished life. In reply to some earnest soul who had asked him how to become a change agent for a better world, he said, “Ask what makes you come alive and go do it. Because what the world needs is more people who have come alive.”
No ink blot, no inventory, no personality typing can give more meaningful insight to who we really are than the answer to that question. It’s easy to cheat a little and say another person does that for us, but I’m talking about something we have all by ourselves, that we make, or express, or do. Having lived away from the people I am closest to for much of the last few years, I can say without a doubt that many things I have experienced would be great to have done with them. With many of my wonderful new experiences, I wish this or that person were there to share it with me. The thing I’m talking about here, though, is what we embrace and love with only ourselves for company.
The best answers to this point-blank question about our lives go far deeper than lists of things that are fun to do. The saddest answer is none at all. To come up with nothing that makes you feel alive is, well, kind of close to being dead. A deeply thoughtful answer to that question will serve as the pathway to the best possible life. Maybe some people don’t really want their best life all that badly and would find such questions irrelevant to how they choose to spend their time, but I’m not one of them.\
I have learned, or relearned a few things recently. The first is I love to write. I lost track of that because I came to dislike the publishing and marketing process so much. I wrote a play earlier this year, and I really loved doing it. Maybe it will get a reading, a workshop, or even a production, and maybe not, but I felt alive doing it and I am deeply satisfied with what I produced. I am circling around a second play, looking for the way in, and I recognize the signs I am almost there. I feel the tingle of exhilaration when characters start to talk in my head, when they reveal who they are, and I know that something that exists only in my head now will come to exist on the page.
I have rediscovered how much the outdoors makes me feel present and alive. I lost track of that living in San Diego full time after selling my mountain home in Lake Arrowhead. It’s not that there aren’t lots of places to go in Southern California, but I never felt much of an urge to make the drive out of town, and the parks, crowded beaches, and harbor fronts don’t grab me like the forest or a rocky shore.
Overall, the thing that makes me feel most alive is change. I am happiest when I’m moving, whether it’s a life of cruising, or since then, a multi day car trip, a new neighborhood for a month or two, a sense that today is a great day to go do something I haven’t done before. That’s how I picture this chapter, full of spontaneity, listening to the spirit in me that is so much wiser than many of my conscious thoughts.
I spent most of my life thinking that to make the most of life I had to have a plan. I should set goals. When I look back on my life I see so many of the most pivotal decisions I made were not because I had a plan, but because I needed to stop feeling wasted where I was. Changing jobs (even careers), homes, relationships, happened because on some inchoate level I knew I was dying, shriveling to less than what my authentic self wanted me to be. Now I’m 70. I’m healthy of mind and body, so I probably still have ample time for a lot of things, but no more time to waste. Now my heart’s demands are loud and insistent, and with joy and gratitude for all that life offers someone as fortunate as I am, I rise up to meet them.