This soft Sunday morning on the back porch sees a deep and thick fog covering intense backlight from the rising sun, creating a tunnel like those in a movie scene where they “walk into the light.” Color is absent; the yard is reduced to shades of gray. Distant gnarled and twisted oak branches are silhouetted and are lighter in the distance, darker and bigger as they come close. This morning would be a good painter’s lesson on perspective, atmosphere, and values (the scale of light to dark).
The morning is nearly silent, sound dampened by dense fog. Birds gossip in stereo. The old swing hangs still and low to the ground, as if waiting for its next rider.
I’m wringing my my hands from the chill, but my mug radiates heat to warm my fingers between keyboard strokes.
Like every Sunday morning, when I try to sit quietly and give honor to my past week, today I reflect on a difficult but important moment, something over which I scoured my brain for new lessons on life. As good as these lessons were, they were hard.
A Difficult Week
Last week I mentioned that I was heading to Portland to visit my friend who had had a stroke that left him unable to speak, unable to move anything but his eyes, and those only up and down.
Upon leaving I told my wife that I was dreading this trip because I knew it would be painful for my friend and for me, yet I was looking forward to being there for him, because that’s what friends do.
Stressed About What to Say
For the entire plane ride, I ruminated about different scenarios in my mind. What do I say? How do I say it? I can’t ask questions, I can only monologue. Do I give him encouragement? Is it false hope, or can he possibly recover?
Upon arrival I was greeted by one of my other close friends, Jackson, who drove down to Portland from Seattle to support me and to be there for our friend Sean. We discussed all the approaches we might take and finally decided none of that mattered, that the only thing that mattered was showing up, being there for a friend, and his knowing we loved him enough to make the trip. All we could do was let him know we supported him, we loved him, and we believed in his ability to fight the biggest fight of his life.
A Gold Nugget Moment
My time with Sean was brief, maybe 20 or 30 minutes, because he becomes exhausted easily, and because he had to be prepared for another surgery that afternoon. And though what I said would be too personal to share here, I feel that was among the most important 20 minutes of my life, and the two days of travel for 20 minutes with him and his wife was well worth the time and the money.
What Would You Do?
I learned a lot on this trip. A lot about my friend, a lot about strokes, a lot about his wife, a lot about what happens to people in this situation, and a lot about myself. This experience made me turn inward and ask myself what I might do if I were totally lucid but trapped inside a body that couldn’t move or communicate. Ultimately, no matter how hard I try, I can’t answer that question. Though I think I would have the will and the fight to continue, it’s really impossible to know.
A Flood of Appreciation
What I do know, however, is that I felt a flood of appreciation for each breath I take, for each step, for the warmth of the sun on my face as I was walking over to the hospital, and even appreciation for every ache and pain, every word I can utter, because I know my friend cannot experience any of that.
I also realized that life boils down to brief moments.
As I take inventory of the best, most memorable times in my life, it’s not decades or years or even special months or weeks. It’s a collection of brief moments.
Celebration of Memories
I’ve had so many wonderful moments I can celebrate. The moment I realized I was in love with my wife. The moment we married. The moment our triplets were born. The moment we celebrated their first birthday. The moment we put them in preschool. And so many more.
Moments, I realized, don’t usually happen randomly. Though there are random and memorable moments, some of the best come from an orchestrated effort.
For instance, the effort to go visit my friend, which will remain among the most special moments of my life. The effort of my good buddy Jackson, who spent the two days with me catching up on our lives, our families. And laughing and joking like old friends do, which is something our friend, lying in a hospital bed, would encourage and appreciate.
I can’t begin to document all the special moments. Many are forgotten, but they come up again through reminders as I talk with an old friend or my wife.
What I Should Have Done
My regret, however, is not taking the time to create new special moments with my good friend, whom I had not seen in person for over three years and talked to only occasionally. In hindsight, I wish I had made the effort to get on a plane and spend a weekend with him while he was well and strong. I had considered it, but did nothing about it because of all the usual excuses, like time or expense.
Though I’m not one to look back with too many regrets, I have decided that I need more moments with those who are important in my life … my wife, my kids, my special friends.
I’m also in a state of heightened awareness that one moment could bring you or me down. Therefore the gift my friend unknowingly gave me is a harsh reminder that I cannot wait to get more important things done and make the most of life.
Embracing What We Have
I need to use the gift of time and health for the things that will hopefully change the worlds where my passions lie.
I realized that though I’m active, and busy, and doing a lot, I’m simply not doing enough. I don’t want to look back, trapped in a body unable to speak, or six feet under, knowing that important things that required my special skills did not get done.
In Search of Understanding
I sometimes wonder how people like Steve Jobs or Elon Musk accomplish so many things and change the world so much. They have special gifts, incredible vision, and ideas beyond what others could even think of. They believed in their ideas and their passion and executed their visions and were driven to make the impossible happen. I wonder how they got so much done, and I’m going to start to study people like this to understand how I can do more.
I’m not here today to be morbid. I sit here on the porch in celebration that my own problems are small, that my own aches don’t matter, that I’m still blessed to breathe, move, and live. I’m grateful for that gift, and not one moment can be wasted.
Each of us, including you, possesses a special gift.
Discovering Your Passion
It took me decades to discover a passion for art and to realize that my primary goal in life is to help others discover and embrace painting, sculpting, or any form of art-making, or even collecting or appreciation.
Don’t Wait for Answers
Though I teach artists how to market, how to set goals, and how to plan, all of which are important, I also have to say that random events have always led me to the things I need to be doing. The key is action. One can’t sit around and wait for answers, because they don’t come from waiting, they come from action — any action that then leads you to something you never knew you would discover.
My entry into radio was not premeditated, but accidental, at a time I did not know what I wanted to do. The same is true for my entry into painting, and later creating art magazines, art retreats, and conventions. Even my art marketing classes started as an accident. But they all happened because I was taking actions that led me to discovery of these things.
A Deeper Purpose
This week in Portland, my friend said he had discovered Sunday Coffee and asked me why I did it, why I bothered to take the time, since it wasn’t really about art and was not about promoting my business. I paused, hesitated, and said, “I think it’s about helping others think about things they might not have thought about, and discover things inside themselves that they don’t realize are there, and hopefully help them believe in themselves so they can make their own lives as good as they can be.”
Pick Just One Thing
If you had just one thing you needed to get done, needed to accomplish, and you had to get it done now, so you knew it would get done before your unexpected last breath, what would that one thing be? What are the baby steps you can take to make that thing happen?
What is your special gift? You may not know what it is, but those close to you can tell you things about yourself and your special gifts that you probably don’t realize you have. And then, how can you use that gift to change the world around you?
An Agreement Together
Let’s make an agreement. Let’s not waste one more minute on things that don’t provide moments, memories, or good value to ourselves and those around us. You and I both know that it could have been your good friend instead of mine, or it could be us. Our time may be long or short, but since we don’t know, let’s make each tick of the clock one tick closer to greatness.
Here is some great wisdom from the movie trailer for 15:17 to Paris.
Once you discover who you really are, you begin to discover you have been given authority over your life
But you can only do that through the struggle of life
Most people are born to struggle
Most people go through life avoiding pain
When you’re working on a dream, at some time a transition takes place
You learn how to leap higher
You start challenging yourself to dig deeper
Something in you that you never activated lies dormant in there
Don’t try taking shortcuts
Do what you know is right
You’ve been chosen for this great work
PS: I know this is a tough ask. Especially since you don’t know my friend. While I was in Portland, I learned that he had used up all his comp time and is no longer getting paid by his employer. That is not evil or unexpected, it just is what it is.
Secondly, his stroke came the very day he and his wife closed on a new house. Now they can’t make the house payments, and all of their small savings is going to hospital bills. And they need to be able to afford to make their small house payments.
His wife is an artist who has been trying to launch her own art career but now finds herself with bills that will burn all of their savings, and it’s looking like she will have to find a way to care for her husband in facilities, probably for the rest of his life. Insurance can’t cover everything.
If you would find it in your heart to give just a couple of dollars, together we could help an artist and her husband get through some of their massive expenses. No pressure from me. And don’t put yourself out; I don’t want to take food off your table. I know every dollar is precious. But if you can afford a couple of bucks, anything will help: https://www.gofundme.com/share/similar-campaigns/sean-demory-stroke-medical-expenses
PPS: Early valentines day greetings to everyone! Have a great day! It’s gonna be a big day for us because we always get about 200 registrations that day since its our last day for early bird price on the Plein Air Convention. So wish us luck with the mad rush 🙂