What's Tony Thinking

Living the Life You Want to Live

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Singer-songwriter Patty Griffin, who is out with a new album, was interviewed on PBS recently by Jeffrey Brown.

Griffin’s new album is apparently more auto-biographical than previous work, a turn prompted by a recent bout with cancer. She is 55.

In the course of the delightful interview, Griffin made a couple of observations that rang true for me.

While her thoughts aren’t exactly unique, they were authentic.

She commented that her illness had been a wake-up call. Drawing her fist gently toward her forehead to indicate the bluntness of that wake up call, she summed it up as, “You will not be getting out of here alive, by the way. So you’d better start living the life you want to live.”

That is one of the gifts of aging, the realization as a prayer I love put it, that “Time is made precious by its passing.”

But Griffin’s summation was more direct and urgent than that lovely but refined line. “You’d better start living the life you want to live.”

I’m not sure how we sometimes miss that point. I suppose that for a stretch of life many of us live the life, or try to the live the life, we think we “should.” Those expectations may come from parents or spouse, community or church. Or from society’s definition of “success.”

We can get so focused on those “shoulds” that we may find it difficult to really even know what the “life you want to live” might be. Aging often means not having quite so many responsibilities and daily obligations thrust upon you (supporting yourself and a family, raising kids, tending to aging parents) and so pushes the question forward. “What is the life you want to live?” And, “Are you living it?”

Sometimes this thought gets translated in ways that reflect our drives or wounds, more than our sense of true north. I’m thinking of the mid-life crisis that results in a red sports car or a marital affair. Such things may be kind of delayed adolescent reaction to the “shoulds,” rather than truly the “life you want to live.”

Another thing that Griffin said that her brush with mortality and aging had taught her was, “To stop being so damn critical of my own work.”

I do sometimes wonder if the world divides into two types — those who need to ease up on the pedal of self-criticism and those who need to put a little more weight on that pedal?

Still, that is another gift of time passing and of awareness of our own mortality.

The beloved, recently deceased poet, Mary Oliver, also posed the question asking, “Tell me what it is that you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

Answering that kind of question isn’t easy. Nor is easy to know exactly what the life “you want to live” looks like. Maybe these are the kinds of questions that require what the poet Rilke called, “Living the questions.”

Griffin and Oliver catch the somewhat paradoxical, twin gift-and-task aspect of life. Life is an amazing gift. And it is a ¬†gift that brings with it a task — to take responsibility for our own lives and live them as fully and joyfully as we are able.

Hearing and engaging those questions may be a gift that those of us who are in the third third of life can offer to others.  Blessings!

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