— Archbishop Desmond Tutu, on Nelson Mandela’s suffering and leadership, No Future Without Forgiveness
— Archbishop Desmond Tutu, on Nelson Mandela’s 27 years of imprisonment on Robben Island as depicted in the famous photograph of Mandela and Walter Sisulu in the prison courtyard where they and the other prisoners sit in a row breaking rocks into small pieces. p. 39, No Future Without Forgiveness
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I love Anne Lamott. I really really do.
At the Berkeley graduation I told the students that the secret to success was simple — ignore your parents’ expectations, give money to the ACLU, and find out the truth about who you are.
…Your problem is how you are going to spend this one odd and precious life you have been issued. Whether you’re going to spend it trying to look good and creating the illusion that you have power over people and circumstances, or whether you are going to taste it, enjoy it and find out the truth about who you are.
…We can see spirit made visible in people being kind to each other, especially when it’s a really busy person, taking care of a needy annoying person. Or even if it’s terribly important you, stopping to take care of pitiful, pathetic you. In fact, that’s often when we see spirit most brightly.
It’s magic to see spirit largely because it’s so rare. Mostly you see the masks and the holograms that the culture presents as real. You see how you’re doing in the world’s eyes, or your family’s, or — worst of all — yours, or in the eyes of people who are doing better than you — much better than you — or worse. But you are not your bank account, or your ambitiousness. You’re not the cold clay lump with a big belly you leave behind when you die. You’re not your collection of walking personality disorders. You are spirit, you are love, and, while it is increasingly hard to believe during this presidency, you are free. You’re here to love, and be loved, freely. If you find out next week that you are terminally ill — and we’re all terminally ill on this bus — all that will matter is memories of beauty, that people loved you, and you loved them, and that you tried to help the poor and innocent.
So how do we feed and nourish our spirit, and the spirit of others?
First, find a path, and a little light to see by. Every single spiritual tradition says the same three things: 1) Live in the now, as often as you can, a breath here, a moment there. 2) You reap exactly what you sow. 3) You must take care of the poor, or you are so doomed that we can’t help you.
…There are so many great things to do right now. Write. Sing. Rest. Eat cherries. Register voters. And — oh my God — I nearly forgot the most important thing: refuse to wear uncomfortable pants, even if they make you look really thin. Promise me you’ll never wear pants that bind or tug or hurt, pants that have an opinion about how much you’ve just eaten. The pants may be lying! There is way too much lying and scolding going on politically right now without your pants getting in on the act, too.
- U.C. Berkeley Commencement Address, 2003
The Guardian article I referenced in a past post listed as one of the top five regrets of those who are dying:
I wish that I had let myself be happier… Many people did not realise until the end that happiness is a choice. (Regret #5)
Be happy. That’s how Somaly Mam started her talk at NYU last fall. Be happy. Mam, a Cambodian human rights advocate and survivor of sexual slavery, challenged a room full of privileged and educated Americans to be happy. It’s easy to say to someone hakuna matata - don’t worry, be happy! And most times when someone says that to me, I respond with an internal protest of self defense: how dare you be so blase without knowing my story! As if I have the lion’s share of suffering to legitimize my melancholy. However, for someone like Somaly Mam to say, be happy, after all that she has endured and survived - I stopped and considered the weight of her words.
Mam remarked at the many Americans she meets who are not happy. If I’m honest with myself, I can pinpoint at least one reason why. Some call it keeping up with the Joneses, and one ancient community codified it as the tenth commandment:
Do not covet your neighbor’s house. Do not covet your neighbor’s wife, male or female servant, ox or donkey, or anything else your neighbor owns. (Exodus 20:17, New Living Translation)
Growing up, I always heard about this family’s son or that family’s daughter, soon to be followed up with, “Why can’t you be like him or her?” When a childhood friend got engaged, her grandmother kept telling my grandmother about the 3 karat diamond ring she had received. My grandmother told me about the ring at least 3 times over the course of a family dinner. Now, if I had better proficiency in my family’s native tongue, I would have gone into the intricate details of my beliefs on diamonds and the wars waged for them, the clever marketing campaigns of DeBeers and Tiffany’s to create this societal custom, etc. But, I digress.
When I find myself unhappy and dissatisfied with my life, it’s usually because I’ve let someone else - a friend, a peer that I admire professionally, or someone around my age with similar qualifications who’s doing something that I care about - be the measuring stick for my life. I’ve usually allowed myself to entertain powerlessness and fatalism, and judged myself for not being like someone else. Those are harsh and heavy weights to carry. Weights that I, and you, are not meant to carry, for all they do is drown us.
Allow me one more digression. I think I believe in a Creator because if you and I are created, then there is hope that we are free to be ourselves, take our unique paths, and leave our own imprints behind on this world, however big or small. We are free to be as unique as our own set of fingerprints. I think when I lose sight of the fact that no one else has the exact same fingerprints as me in the world and all of history, and begin to try and model my life after others, that’s when (besides breaking the tenth Jewish commandment) I put myself on the path of Regret #1 of the dying:
I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
Digression over. Back to being happy. Last week, I came across a Huffington Post article, Rewrapping Divorce as a Gift. It was the universe’s answer to my pleas for help and clarity after the end of a recent relationship. How can I choose to be happy when things are not working out the way I thought it would?
And the answer: Acceptance. And choose your own adventure, don’t let someone else control your story.
The hardest part of learning to see my divorce as a gift was letting go of expectations. I thought that I would be married forever; I fully bought into the whole “till death do us part.” Finding myself parted and nowhere near dead, I had to release that assumption, that dream. I have learned that happiness is found through acceptance rather than control and that letting go of the past and imagined future makes today a better place to be.
I could have easily crawled inside that box and lived the rest of my life defined by its walls, staying hurt and angry. No one would have blamed me for that. I had no choice about what he did, but I had the power to not let his choice control the rest of my life. I chose to see my divorce as a gift, a present that has allowed me to live my life with purpose and joy. I have decided to own this unwanted gift, using my story to help others along their own journeys. It is a present that I would like to regift to you. (Lisa Arends, Huffington Post)
Perhaps the best regifted gift I’ve ever received. Here’s to accepting the present, letting go of the past and imagined future, and being happy.