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We must know what we value

In the past month I’ve written about hospice care for the homeless, read a novel centered around a nursing home during COVID lockdown and read a memoir written by a neurosurgeon as he was dying from cancer.

What did all three of these have in common? Death, yes. But there was something more. They each shined a light on the importance of knowing what we value and living accordingly.

Paul Kalanithi wrote in his memoir, “When Breath Becomes Air,” that his oncologist urged him to not consider his time left but to instead to assess his values.

It’s good advice for us all.

In this fast-paced world, we tend to make goals and assess time accordingly but if we don’t take time to really understand what we value, is it time well spent?

My therapist helped me take that time to understand my values. Because uneasiness tends to happen when something or someone pushes us to live outside of our values. If we don’t first understand what values are at stake when life hits us sideways, how can we live more meaningfully and with purpose?

It should not take terminal illness to prompt introspection, to understand our time on earth is precious and short. Any of us could be gone tomorrow. Hit by that proverbial bus. So many of us die without seeing it coming. My mother certainly did. She died in a car accident at 32 years old.

There’s that old cliche that preaches to live like we’re dying, but I prefer Henry David Thoreau’s quote. He wrote in Walden, “As if you could kill time without damaging eternity.”

We could, and do, kill time a million different ways. Wasted time truly is a death by 1000 cuts. We could instead choose to live with purpose, with understanding that everything we do matters. It matters to us and every other person who crosses our path.

The holiday season is upon us. The annual designated season of generosity and giving. The gift we should each give ourselves is time to reflect on our values. Let’s double down on generosity and not limit it to one season. Determined to sustain our generosity of spirit throughout the whole year — our whole lives. The needs of our communities are worthy. Let’s put down our phones, turn off the television and join our neighbors as part of solutions that move us all lovingly forward.

Kalanithi also wrote in his memoir, “Death is closer than I think, but sooner than I desire.” This is another universal truth so spend your time intentionally and with purpose.

Be present in your life, it’s the only one you’ve got. Let it be the gift you give yourself each and every day.

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