A cold February afternoon twenty years ago, when visiting a hospice where my father was dying, I met a man of 60 who was in respite care, but was terminally ill. He seemed calm and content. ‘I’ve had a good life’, he said. He had no regrets about dying. I was a young mother with two small and very lively children I had to keep under check, but they must have brightened things – two little sparks of the future. I never found out his name, but admire him still – he had peace in his heart and dignity about the way he regarded his life. He gave me a form of hope and a way of understanding that, perhaps, only know, I begin to understand properly. Now, 60 for me is not so far away. I have unfinished business in my life, dreams and ambitions set aside for ‘the future’. I don’t know what this man had left in his ‘unfinished business’ list, but he surely had many things he would have liked to have done. He had a contentment and tranquillity that came from his acknowledgement of his own life – he validated it as ‘a good life.’
It’s not just that we wait for tomorrow to ‘live’, or consider it in term of ambitions that can be marked off a list, ticked off on a calendar, but it is the need to have it validated by other people, and advertised so that everyone knows what a good time we are having. Other people validate our lives for us. This has always happened, but in the global community, made possible by technology, social media now offers us a mechanism to allow easy mutual approval to hundreds of people we hardly even know. You like my life and I’ll like yours. Follow my Tweet etc. Here is me, blogging…
It is easy, with busy schedules, responsibilities, bills to pay, kids to look out for, to live in the ruts of our making, looking always at a programme for our lives, assessing how we have scored, never quite knowing if it has made us happy, or what love is. Things have changed in our everyday interactions in those two decades. We do less face to face activity, and much more virtually, and not necessarily with people who would be naturally be part of our community. It can be lonely working at a computer all day. We get glimpses of many other lives through our media connections and question whether we are doing ours ‘right’. There is an amplification of our needs and impulses by this artificial extension of local social networks. We can easily lose a sense of self-anchoring in the huge global information network. Twenty years ago, there was no domestic internet, mobile phones were only beginning to be used by ordinary people, social media hadn’t been invented, and the world was much more to do with human dynamics rather than informatics. Would that man I met have spent his last weeks tweeting, posting on Facebook, blogging about his illness, or would he have spent it with his loving wife, who was there every day for him? I can’t imagine that he’d have been texting away, or updating his Facebook status on his mobile device whilst he and his wife sat companionably together in the public room.
Living a ‘good life’ has something to do with fulfilling ambitions, using our talents, having fun, working hard, striving, but also in caring for and loving others and gaining acknowledgement, admiration and respect of people who matter. Also I think it has to do with relishing the moment – being in one’s life. Enjoying the stillness in the ‘ordinary’ with those we care about.