I attended a memorial service on Zoom yesterday for 120 people. My friend, Magi, who died was extremely loved. When they first found her breast cancer, it was Stage Two and with chemo and radiation, she had sent the beast into remission. She thought she had beaten it. But in a couple of years, it came roaring back, claws out, and hit her with Stage 4 that metastasized into her liver. It got her in the end.
During the online memorial, I was stunned to scroll through page after page of people who wanted to celebrate Magi’s life. It was both sweet and tragic. The gist of what people said was that Magi had lived her life to the fullest and she had inspired people, including exes, her children and her many friends. I half expected Magi to show up in the physical, she was that alive, even when she was dying. It made me think about how I show up in my life and how I hope I inspire friends and family.
I’m not a great proponent of “being productive.” I’ve done a great deal in my life but I’m not about “doing” for doing’s sake. I like to do what brings me joy, I love being creative, but I also like relaxing, being silent and thinking. Some years ago, I recall finishing a ghostwrite for a celebrity. The deadline had been tight and I’d worked my butt off for months to write her book in the prescribed amount of time and to make it a great read. I felt good about it but as usual, I had some postpartum depression when I’d finally put it to bed. I went from being swamped with research and turning in pages every day to having very little to do. The days felt long and I was somewhat anxious.
I was on a phone call with my mother at the time and I told her that I needed to learn to relax, do nothing, and appreciate my downtime. A few days later, I got a letter from her that said, “Now you have time to accomplish a lot. I make sure I do several unpleasant tasks a day to keep up my discipline.”
I disagreed with her sentiment and it made me consider what really mattered to me. What did I see as a life well lived? How would I like to be remembered when I’m gone? I don’t want to fill in my time with things that don’t make me happy. I don’t need to do what I don’t like in order to feel disciplined. When I’m gone, I want to be remembered for the kindness I put out into the world. For the support I gave my friends and the compassion I showed them and showed myself.
During this pandemic, as we stay home and try to fill in our time, I get great satisfaction from talking to friends who are lonely and anxious. I talk them down and they do the same for me. I check in with people I haven’t seen for a while and ask how they’re doing. It might be a five minute call but it feels good to me so I expect it feels good to them.
I like accomplishing things as much as the next person, it’s good to do what makes you proud, but these days, getting through the day and being kind to myself makes me proud. Facing my fear when I go grocery shopping makes me feel accomplished. Conserving paper goods and making a nice meal at the end of the day makes me feel proud. Taking a shower and washing my hair is a highlight in these strange times. Knitting, making leather bags, writing for no particular purpose and reading books are all a part of my day but I’m doing these things because they make me happy, not because I need to “do” anything. Making my life meaningful and staying away from the glut of bad news on TV is how I’m staying calm and contributing to the world at large. I hope I’m inspiring people when I bypass the downward spiral, the fear that seems to be free floating, and when I tame my irritation and treat others how I want to be treated. To me, that feels productive.
What is this time like for you? Are you beating yourself up for not “doing” as much as you think you should? I hope not.