It was August 23, 2008 and I was outside, jotting down some arcane notes when the phone rang once and quit. My wife checked the number. It was my mother. When I called back, after a few moments of mumbling, she got straight to the point. “Your dad died this morning.” He had been sick for some time. I confess, my dad, who had spent the better part of his life as Editor of various magazines would have appreciated her judicious editing; at least that was my first thought, strange as it was. Then my mother and I talked for a while. Then we hung up, a thousand miles apart, but both entered into the grieving process together.
This event has been replayed in type since the beginning of time, and it will continue, world-wide perhaps until the end of time. Someone (not something) unique has been lost to the world, irreplaceable, forever. Of course, knowing that virtually all people in all times have suffered (or will suffer) through the loss of a parent does not make it one bit easier for me on a personal level; but it does raise some interesting questions.
I was considering this when I realized that as we speak of the irreplaceable loss in death, we also speak of the miracle of gain at the birth of a child. When we recognize that someone new has entered this mix we call humanity, we rejoice with a sure and certain knowledge that the world will never be the same again. Life goes on, regardless of what we think or how we feel about it.
It is only natural at times to wonder: How can we keep up? How can we bear it all? How can we make sense of our lives in the elusive face of an ever changing universe? At some point we realize that all we can really do is hold on to what is dear to us: the soft cuddle of the newborn; the memories of my father. To say that life is precious sometimes seems so cliché as to not be worth saying. Yet life is precious, and human life ultimately so, and all rational people cling to it with every fiber. Life is valuable.
I have been asked more times than I can count: “What do you mean valuable?” Rather, I should ask what is valuable to you? What is valuable, worthy of your time and attention, worthwhile, meaningful, important? Is it life, love, beauty, justice, family, friends, this world or the next?
In some real way, the things we count as valuable (values that are worthy or worthwhile) stand at the core of our being. They direct our thoughts, inspire our desires, prioritize our wants and needs, precipitate our actions and behaviors, and impact our relationships with other people and with the world, affecting the world through us in ways, at times, we could never imagine. Indeed, it is hard to imagine living at all without holding something precious in our hearts.
I was thinking about this sort of thing the morning my dad died; and it occurred to me, as I have mentioned, that grief is something universal, and very human. And as the week progressed, I came into contact with sympathy, compassion, empathy, kindness, love, encouragement, hope, faith, some joy, yes, mingled with the tears, and so many things of like nature I could not possibly list them all. All of these things are universally understood, and have always been understood by people everywhere. And in the midst of my ruminations I discovered many valuable things – core values if you will – very human values worth living for, and to some extent even worth dying for.
What are values?
They are the warp and woof of what makes us human and the better we apprehend them and live them, the more we will live a life worth living.