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Where Do I
This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap...
-- George Bernard Shaw Epistle dedicatory To Man And Superman
We Are Perfectly ImperfectI receive many letters, and often they end with thesewords: "Help, where do I go from here?" This questionsometimes comes from people who are ill, or it may beasked by those who are well again and are wonderingwhat to do with their lives.
One lady wrote saying,I was told many times that I had not long to live, and as I was very ill I thought they might be right. So I made out a will, gave away my valued treasures to family and friends, I bought a dog, took more vitamins, started exercising and eating better, laughed more, and put in a backyard wildlife habitat, my life's desire. If I was going to die, I might as well die doing all the things I wanted to do.I lived, and now I'm going to kill myself by never slowing down. Help, where do I go from here?
People like this are easy to help. I can write them a prescription: "Take a nap." They are living their lives fully: burning up, not burning out. They are spending their lives.
When you are burning up you are living your life, and taking a nap or a vacation will provide you with energy and strength to go on. But burning out, a simple rest won't cure.Burning out means misusing yourself, dying with much left over in the candleholder. It means never really having lived fully.
Many people are in incredible pain. They are overwhelmed by life's difficulties and seeming unfairness. They have lost their power. So when a book comes out on how to commit suicide, it becomes a bestseller. But if you regain your power, you regain your life and your death and you don't have to be afraid. How do you gain that power? That is a question that I hope we can explore together.
I know that part of the answer lies in realizing that we don't have to be perfect.
In Martin Buber's "Tales of the Hasidim," there is a story about how each of us should carry in one pocket a card with these words: "For my sake was the world created." And in another pocket, a card saying, "I am earth and ashes." Both statements are true. Together they say that we are perfectly imperfect. You can reach into whichever pocket is appropriate for the day.
I like to keep that thought in mind, because it is the process of living that is important and that we are all struggling with -- not the product, or the result. In fact, we can say that the process is the product -- that's what living your life means. Raising your child, tending your garden, driving the bus, running the elevator, loving the world in your way -- these are the things that are significant, not the gold watch you receive when you retire, or the diploma. It is the experience of living that is important, not searching for a meaning. We bring meaning by how we love the world.
We will never be finished products. And once we realize that we don't have to be perfect, we can reveal our vulnerability and ask for help. We can change our idea of what being "independent" is.
The Real Meaning of Independence
Many of us are brought up to think we have to solve our problems by ourselves, to put on "a brave front" and be strong. But if you think that trying to do it all makes you independent, you're wrong. What this does is exhaust you and make you vulnerable to illness, and it leads you to resent the world. You end up with few true relationships and little support.
Being independent doesn't mean that you don't need other people in your life. We all do, to make our lives significant. Independence means knowing your ability to deal with adversity as well as expressing feelings, asking for help when appropriate, learning to share your needs. It means not being lonely even when you are alone. It means developing into a full and complete human being, in the healthiest sense of the word.
What is it within us that says, "I'm weak and vulnerable if I ask for help, even for directions when I'm lost"? My wife, Bobbie, has a one-liner that always brings a roar of laughter at our workshops, especially from the women. She asks, "Why did the tribes in Israel wander in the desert for forty years?" The answer is: "Because even then, men couldn't ask directions." But we can begin to understand that we can ask for help.
Dr. Walter Menninger, a friend and medical school classmate of mine, wrote an article called "The Mental Health Imperative: Learning from Adversity." In it he says, "Acknowledge that everyone has limits...and learn to read your own signals that the limits are being approached or gone beyond. And be comfortable in asking for help when your limits are surpassed."
If your family didn't teach you this, it can be hard to set new behavior patterns, and reach out.
Reverend William Chidester, a minister we know spent his whole life giving. I have seen this happen many times, with people in many professions. But when he became ill, he learned how much love could come back to him. He and his wife had been babysitters of ours in our home in Connecticut in the early 1970s....How to Live Between Office Visits. Copyright � by Bernie S. Siegel. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.