"We're born with millions of little lights shining in the dark
And they show us the way
One lights up
Every time you feel love in your heart
One dies when it moves away"
-- Michael Passenger
Like so many of us, I felt such sadness in hearing the news of Robin Williams' death. Although I'm aware that creative, bright, and humorous people are as susceptible as anyone (maybe even more susceptible) to depression, there's something about the uniqueness of Robin Williams' gifts that makes me wish he could have been spared emotional anguish. I'd also like to imagine that anyone who played such incredible characters as the therapist in "Good Will Hunting" or the teacher in "Dead Poets Society" would be graced with some means of transcending even the darkest sorts of darkness. I realize, however, in living my own life and sitting with friends and clients who are grappling with depression, that my wishful thinking isn't always realistic.
When I reflect on the many tragic situations in the larger world and among people I know, the question that often comes to mind is, "How, then, shall we live?" I think of this when I feel overwhelmed by the despair and pain around me, or when I feel heartache over the loss of a personal friend or a public figure who, for me, was a source of light in this world. I'm often reminded of the words of Kobun Chino Otogawa Roshi in response to a visibly-distraught woman in the audience at one of his talks soon after the attack on the World Trade Center. She asked, "How can I deal with the enormous fear and anger that I feel about what happened?"
Kobun replied, "Do one kind thing for someone every day."
I realize that such advice might sound trite or over-simplistic. I also know that there are days when we can feel consumed by the items on our to-do lists, to the point where the volume of what needs our attention makes generosity feel beyond our reach. On other days, however, I think Kobun's advice could apply quite universally to all of us asking, "How, then, shall we live?" For me, it feels inspiring -- it re-inflates my lungs and my heart -- to imagine that when lights go out in this world, those of us who are able, in whatever ways we're able, need to shine a little brighter. We need to offer what we can to uplift the world and people around us.
Years ago, I wouldn't have taken this inner-conversation very seriously -- it would have felt odd to self-appoint myself to do anything, grand or small. But it feels different now at age 45, in having witnessed the passing of many of my key mentors and role models, my maid of honor and the minister who married me, and certainly my mother -- who in passing away 12 years ago left me as the oldest woman in my blood line. It gets your attention when you look around to the usual cast of characters you've relied on to hold up torches for all that's good in the world, and realize that far fewer of them are still living.
I know that none of us makes it through life without support and connection with others, and that each of us takes turns at being able to care and uplift others, and in needing our own pilot light to be restarted. In whatever state this day finds you, I hope you discover ways to connect with those around you -- to inspire and be inspired in meaningful ways.
"I cannot cause light; the most I can do is try to put myself in the path of its beam."
-- Annie Dillard
"There are two ways of spreading light: to be the candle or the mirror that reflects it."
-- Edith Wharton