"The Old Year Passes"
- At the Desert Retreat House -
As I read the morning newspaper on this last day of 2017, I was struck by the number of articles that featured some sort of year end review. There were numerous pictures, stories and reports of the year now coming to an end: mass shootings, a new presidential administration, a royal engagement, the ten best books of 2017, the ten best movies.
I suppose it’s only natural for us to look back and review what went on at the end of every year but I also wonder if a year-end review might be more helpful if it was more than an opportunity to look back and make a “laundry list” of everything that seemed to be noteworthy over the past twelve months. Instead, it might be better to ask some probing questions about what lessons we may have learned over the past year so that we might take that learning into the year yet to come.
I remember something I read a while back about the kind of life-end review that people often engage in as they lay on a death bed. For most people, when they come to the end of their lives, they do more than make lists of all the stuff that happened to them over the span of their lives; instead, as life comes to and end many people experience a certain clarity about what is really important about living.
Dr. Ira Byock, a nationally renowned hospice-care physician, has witnessed and documented thousands of death-bed experiences; and he discovered that, at the threshold of death, almost everyone says some very similar things as they take their final breaths. Dr. Byock has distilled these “end of life” statements into four very basic sentiments:
Please forgive me
I forgive you
I love you
As I think about it, these simple yet profound statements are at the very core of our common humanity. They may be the things we say when we die but they also are beautiful expressions of what it means to be fully alive. What really matters and gives ultimate meaning to our living is our capacity for forgiveness, thankfulness and love.
So many of us devote a lifetime doing the things that, in the end, don’t really matter all that much – building a career, climbing the ladder of success, accumulating more and more stuff, holding onto anger or grudges, constantly seeking the praise of others. But in the end most of us will not use our last breaths to inquire about our bank balance or ask to see a copy of a business report. Instead we will look to the people who have surrounded us in life and we will seek or offer forgiveness, thank them, and tell them how much we love them.
As I do my own year end review on this last day of 2017, I am asking myself some of these ultimate questions about what really matters in life.
Today I am reflecting on a piece of wisdom that is often attributed to the Buddha and I am relying on this wisdom to help me review the year that is ending and to guide me into the next year as it begins:
In the end these things matter most:
How well did you love?
How well did you love?
How fully did you live?
How deeply did you let go?