-in my meditation garden-
The other day I learned of the death of a former parishioner of mine- he was 101 years old. When I called his widow to express my condolences I told her that, for me, her husband was the essence of what it means to be a true "gentleman," -- he was indeed a "gentle" man.
Although his body had been failing in his later years, he had a clear mind and big heart right up until the day he died. I had great affection and respect for this man not because he had managed to live so long, but because he was always so kind while he did live - kind not just to me but to everyone who came into his life.
He always had something good to say about people - never an axe to grind, never playing the angles or hiding behind a hidden agenda. I had plenty of interactions with him and I honestly never saw him in a cranky mood. I also never heard him make demands because he had lived so long and therefore deserved to be treated better or listened to more.
From time to time I would receive a little poem or witty limerick from him in my mailbox - some lighthearted thought he would send on to me especially if he thought I looked tired or was weary. He did a lot to "brighten up the day" for lots of people - little acts of kindness that made enormous differences.
This morning I have been thinking of my old friend who had lived to be 101. Wisdom does not necessarily come with age. I have known plenty of older people who were anything but wise in their old age. But my friend who just died was truly a wise man, who over his 101 years had come to discover one, simple, essential wisdom about living a meaningful life - it all boils down to this:
Be Gentle and Be Kind
Any chef will tell you that there is no more delicious sauce than one that has been "reduced" - all the ingredients, butter, herbs, wine, broth all boiled down to achieve maximum flavor. I think maybe the same is true about life and learning how to live wisely.
As I see it, you can take all the many commandments, all the books of laws, all the doctrine, all the dogma and all the thousands of tomes of theological discourse from all the many different religions and spiritual traditions, and you can put them in a pot and boil them all down to a deliciously simple but hardly simplistic wisdom: If you want to find deeper peace in living everyday:
Be Gentle and be Kind
I have a ways to go before I get to be 101, but in the later years of my own life I hope I can learn from the example of a life well-lived as shown to me by my friend who just died. People really loved this man not because he was so smart (although he was), not because he was so popular and so influential (although he was that), they loved him because he was gentle; they loved him because he was kind. I hope that I can be the same. I hope we all can.
The Dalai Lama once said:
My religion is very simple.
My religion is kindness.
That's my religion too.