She wanted to die doing something she loved. And she loved hiking in beautiful places. Each time she hiked, she made her peace with the God of the Universe. On that particular day, she thought about dying. This is a beautiful place, she thought. I am comfortable here alone, in my solitude. I would be okay with dying here, although I am feeling quite healthy. But, if I should die, would my grown kids know what to do? Would they shed needless tears or spend useless money? Would they cry over the fact that I died alone, out in the wild? Tears of grief should only be shed because they miss me and loved me. There is nothing wrong with dying (or living) in solitude. Would they feel compelled, out of grief, loss or guilt to spend money on useless things like caskets and plots and headstones? Ah, there it was, the challenge of dying without money. It is expensive to die in a hospital. It is expensive to die on the trail. It is expensive to die in your sleep. It is expensive to legally dispose of a body no matter how and where that body breathes its last. Therein she was not ready to die. She had little money to leave to her descendants and less still that she was willing to have them spend on the dead! Money should be spent on life! What she did have in abundance to leave with them was music and a love of music. She had birthed, raised-up, trained and then released; not one, not two, but three passionate musicians to the world. Different genres, different eras, different goals, yet all three saturated with acute audio receptors, secure pitch, word-smithed lyrics and throbbing rhythms. Music told the story of her life and her contribution to the lives of others. And this is what she wanted to communicate to her offspring:
Cremate me. Scatter my ashes in a beautiful place. And if you choose to spend money, let it be on musicians. Throw the concert of the century. Tune the piano! If there are any black limos, use them to ferry musicians. Pack them full of instruments and bands. Let the music be well-prepared and well-performed. Skip the church and choose the concert hall or the amphitheater. A church building does not add one bit of holiness. For that matter, skip the speakers and preachers. Do not. Do not go down the moralistic route of speakers who try to shame, blame, coerce or manipulate the audience into a change of heart or lifestyle. The only kind of speakers I want to celebrate my life are those necessary for amplification of sound. Let the virtuoso string players play their adagios. Let the pop vocalists belt. Let the guitarists and drummers rock. Let the gospel choir sway and stack up the harmonies. Let the pipe organ thunder Bach. Let it be music well-prepared and well-performed. Fill the time with musical memories. Let the music comfort and speak. A good piece of music needs no explanation. Cut the preaching. Nix the manipulation. Play the music. Tell the story with music. Love and support the musicians. Take a trip down musical memory lane in my honor. Take a hike in a beautiful place. And I shall be at peace.
How to Set New Year’s Goals That Work
You should do it, niggled the inner voice as her eyes scanned the title of the article. Set some goals. It was a voice she had learned to trust. You want to be successful. You want to move to the next level. You know goals help your focus, your self-esteem, your decision making. Think it through. Do it. “I will,” she said. “But first, I want to ask the God of the Universe some questions. There is something I have been pondering for quite awhile and I need an omniscient answer. The answer will have a bearing on the goals I set.” So. Ask your all-knowing oracle already, but make it snappy. The new year is advancing. “I’m a little bit fearful of the answer,” she said. “Because, no matter the answer, yes or no, it will disturb my comfort and my plans.” Maybe I should just go on not knowing, not asking and not setting any goals – you know-take life as it comes and kind of putter around at enjoyable things I like to do. Maybe something good will happen by accident. After all, that’s been my habit for more years than not and I don’t want to ruffle the waters or risk failure by aspiring to something unachievable. “Pull the tooth!” the voice fairly shouted. For goodness sakes, the subject came up, you didn’t court it, you were fine in your resignation, you merely read a best-selling book in which the main character said, “Someday you may think of marrying. Pick someone who thinks you’re the only person in the room.” Go ahead. Ask the question of the Universe. Do it.
“Does such a man exist?” she asked. Let me restate the question,“ Is it possible there is such a man who thinks you are the only woman in the room? – for a lifetime?” “What?” squeaked the voice. “Romantic relationship is your New Year’s resolution?” “No,” she said. “Relationship takes two. Realistic goals are achievements that depend only on me. I cannot control another person. But if there is such a male, of course, I want one. Doesn’t every woman? I have always wanted one. In that case, a realistic goal would be to get out and meet more people. But that is not why I asked the question. An affirmative answer only begs a second question: What have I been doing wrong all these years? How do I fix me? Heal me? Frankly, that sounds like a lot of work. Yet, I must know the answer. But fixing me is not the goal. That is not why I asked the question.” “Then why did you ask the question?” queried the voice. “I am a writer of fiction,” she said. “But I will not write what is not truth.” Maybe all those stories I love to read with near perfect men or men who finally see the light and change are just wishful thinking, romances written by women. As a writer, I will not allow myself to perpetrate false expectations or false hope. If the answer is no; no there are no men capable of thinking you are the only woman in the room. “What then, do I have to write?” she asked. Yea or nay, either way, I must be able to write a woman who grows, who keeps on living, who knows herself, who overcomes obstacles and changes for the better, who keeps on loving – maybe even a woman who sets and achieves realistic goals.
She lives in an abandoned house and spends her days away, searching for jobs, and her nights shivering under extra comforters because there is no warmth in an abandoned house. Another person sleeps there too, and is employed. But still, whether the occupants are at home or at work the house is abandoned, for you see, something that would make that house a home is missing. No one fills the role of keeper of the house. There are two who huddle there. It would seem they could come up with an understanding of how to make that house a safe haven or even a comfortable temporary harbor. But plans are most successful when everyone concerned is on board. A team of one becomes exhausted without reciprocity from the other.
Meanwhile, in the same state, two other unrelated and unattached people occupy a large house. They both work and they both travel frequently. The house is often empty of people – but never abandoned. Both people are housekeepers. Broken things get fixed. Needs of the house are addressed as a means of meeting the needs of people. Both principal occupants are agreed that a stitch in time saves nine and that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Both the principal occupants understand the value of beauty and cleanliness in making a house a place of refuge, renewal and restoration for all who lodge there. The house is a place of welcome for all who pass through, whether for tea, dinner, or a temporary bed.
All four of the persons living in the two households share a philosophy in common: people are more important than things. All four verbally champion: “Use things, love people.” (The polar opposite, of course, is to use people and love things.) Yet, in an attempt to emphasize loving, some ignore or neglect material things. Notice how the two in the second household operate: Needs of the house are addressed as a means of meeting the needs of people. How much more effective and efficient it is to use things to love people!
She got a head start on her goals this year and it happened most inadvertently.
“It is time,” said the inner voice. “You’ve got to be kidding, “ she responded. It is not even December yet and you want me to set goals? Make New Year’s resolutions?
No. No resolutions. Resolutions are too often harsh, guilt producing, reminiscent of things you did not accomplish, places you did not carry through. You said it – it is not even December yet. So, how about just giving thanks? Let’s take a grateful tour down memory lane and accentuate the positive. What have you accomplished this year? These years? To this point in life? Have you done the things you wanted to do? Have you pursued your dreams?”
“Well,” she replied, “I love to make music. I’ve never been famous or even well known for my virtuosity, but I have made hundreds of vintage folks at retirement centers happy with my smooth and relaxing piano melodies. I never went on tour with the band, but it’s hard to feel any regrets. All my offspring are musicians. I have written musicals, staged musicals and invested in the lives of thousands of elementary age people both in the classroom and as private students. I sang. I danced a little. I played lots of keyboard, a few wind instruments, a little percussion. I can die happy. I suppose if I did have a regret it would be that I never learned strings.”
“Wait a minute,” said the inner voice. “Why does that have to be a regret?”
“It doesn’t.” she said. She reached for the guitar that sits next to her piano while simultaneously Googling guitar lessons.
She got a head start on her goals this year and that is how it came about that she could sing “Silent Night,” and accompany herself on the guitar before the end of 2015. Now all she has to do in 2016 is keep those callouses hardy through daily practice.
There are times when resolution means closure. And then you start the next grand movement. What next? What do you want or need or aspire to? There is a fresh year ahead. What is your next desire? Often, renewed desire begins with thankfulness. I am thankful for the music in my life. I am thankful for the circuitous road travelled. I anticipate the next bend in the road!