No Wasted Moments
A friend of mine recently recommended a book to me by the multitalented Brian Doyle called “One Long River of Song.” Doyle, a devout Catholic (though I don’t think you need to be a Christian to appreciate his writing), was an award-winning essayist, poet, and novelist with more than 20 books to his name.
Sadly, we lost him in 2019 to what he described as a “big honkin’ brain tumor” when he was just 60 years old. But he left behind so much wisdom to draw from. He truly had a gift. He could pay attention with laser focus, draw out many lessons and observations, and then write it down in such a way that you saw it, too. You saw it and wanted to see more on your own.
That’s something I’ve been trying to do lately — be more observant of the world around me, and be grateful for the beauty and truth that I find. Sometimes, as an MS patient, that’s a little harder to do. Sometimes, I just want to throw in the towel and give it all a middle finger salute, but I can never quite make myself quit. Life is just too precious to waste like that.
But no matter how well we observe or how diligent we are in sharing our observations, we must recognize that we are finite creatures. We’re only here for a few scant decades, and after that, who knows? The pessimists among us will likely say that nothing we do matters in the end. Whatever greatness we manage to achieve will last perhaps a few generations beyond us and nothing more. On a long enough timeline, both we and our victories will fade into oblivion.
I ain’t buying that.
In “The Final Frontier,” an essay from “One Long River of Song,” Doyle writes:
“All you can do is face the world with quiet grace and hope you make a sliver of difference. … You must trust the you being the best possible you matters somehow. That trying to be an honest and tender parent will echo for centuries through your tribe. That doing your chosen work with creativity and diligence will shiver people far beyond your ken. That being an attentive and generous friend and citizen will prevent a thread or two of the social fabric from unraveling. And you must do all of this with the certain knowledge that you will never get proper credit for it, and in fact the vast majority of things you do right will go utterly unremarked.”
I’m with Doyle on this one. We will likely never see the results of our good and righteous choices. The people and places we affect may not be numerous, but they’ll add up over time. Folks we raise well will raise even better folks. The words and art we leave behind could change generations forever. The kindness we share with strangers has a way of coming back by surprising and wonderful means, keeping this tired old world bopping along in the process.
In short, nothing is wasted. Everything serves a purpose. Our joy. Our compassion. Our diligence. Our love. Our loss and pain. All of it matters, so we must make the most of each moment and each choice given to us. And though “the vast majority … will go utterly unremarked,” we will know what right and good things we’ve accomplished. And in some transcendent and divine way, those things will live beyond us — making the world a little brighter, a little better, and perhaps a little more humane.
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