We live in an era where a scientific story is playing itself out nationally. Metrics, it seems, rule accelerated by our confidence in the glitz and speed of technology. We seem to have physics envy. Numbers, graphs, polls, procedures, and standards all emanate from the altar of measurability. Some people feel that if it cannot be seen or measured, it does not exist or is of little consequence. In our work-a-day world our rational minds are supposed to govern our behavior. The head rules. Emotion and intuition are mistrusted.
Living, however, is not about arithmetic, calculus or data. It is about matters of the heart, which speak with more clarity and simplicity than our heads. Our hearts have to do with ‘being’, not just analyzing and doing. They concern relating, not rationalizing.
All of us have a longing to belong – to be loved unconditionally with compassion and acceptance. While hearts are tangible organs, they are also metaphorical symbols of the spirit and soul that resides in all of us. Our soul and spirit are what are left when the world scrapes away our veneer, our earthly titles and positions, and our outward physical selves. Tragedies, loss, and death have a way of skinning us down to our common humanity.
In life and death, however, love not metrics matter. Material things are meaningless. Intangible feelings and the immeasurable outpouring of love are what remain. Death has massive power, but it is love that breaks hearts. They rupture because of the explosion of our love for the person who is gone.
Broken hearts create an outpouring of absolute love. In a strange way, that outpouring transports us to when we were children free to express genuine, unfettered emotion. I know that I should have expressed those emotions more frequently with simple gratitude to people when they were alive.
We can learn from our children. On one of my trips to see my grandchildren, Luke, who was six years old at the time, looked at his father at the dinner table and said spontaneously, “Dad, I love you.” He innocently uttered simple wisdom and truth: an earnest and natural expression of his love with no self-censoring and no self-consciousness. I am continually amazed how children help me see life with the fresh eyes of innocence, and confirm their love unconditionally through the grace of simple words and touch.
Why do we hesitate to say what’s in our hearts and express it to others? Do we think the timing isn’t right or are we trapped in our façade and image? Sometimes, I think our so-called social values constrain us. But when people are gone, we yearn for just one more opportunity to say ‘I love you’. No mention of material things or jobs. Just love – one more time.
One of my daughter’s friends wrote me a note about a book she received from Betsy during the Christmas holidays in 1997. The inscription read, “For we must always remember we are unique and on this earth for love and kindness.” I cherish that quote and have it posted on a wall so I can remind myself each day. We all need those sentiments and must not forget their value to the people we love and honor.
My last words over the phone the night before Betsy died were ‘I love you.’ I am so grateful that I said those words — an expression of love, one last time before an unforeseen sorrowful tragedy. We never know when it is the last time.