First, the good news: Today is the birthday of the one and only, holy hell, they broke the mold when they made this guy, KGS, the Poet Laureate of the Cult. Happy Birthday!! You’re one of the most talented and kind-hearted people I’ve ever had the privilege to know and I love you, your wife, and your three gorgeous kiddos. Also, your strawberry vinaigrette is the bomb.
Now, the bad news: Another of my very favorite authors is gone. Mark Shand, you’ll remember, died in the spring of 2014, a week after I thought to sit down to write him the only fan letter I’ve ever wanted to write in my life (which I never wrote, to my regret), and Michael Herr died last week, his book Dispatches having been a topic of conversation repeatedly, for a variety of reasons, in my life for the past 20 years. In addition, at the beginning of this week, I had a visit from a friend I’ve known since I was 18; a visit that involved equal parts cocktails and reminiscing about a mutual, beloved friend of ours, Jen, who died nearly a year ago — and on that same day, I received the news that the father of my excellent friend Luigi had passed away.
This post isn’t about death, however. It’s about the fact that all of the four people I just mentioned left their mark on the world: Shand through his enormous capacity for adventure and his wonderful storytelling abilities; Herr for his incredibly colorful and fluid skill in conveying the madness of war that changed the face of journalism forever; Jen, in the way she lifted the spirits of everyone around her and inspired her friends to be better people; and Luigi’s dad, who’s left behind a large family and, judging from Luigi, an excellent example of what it means to be a great father.
The thing that all four of these people — who were living very different lives — had in common was, as far as I can tell, courage. Whereas Shand and Herr had the kind of large, bold courage that played out in high-risk situations, Luigi’s dad left behind his home country and all that was familiar to make a better life for his young family in the US, which took serious cojones.
And then there was Jen…
Jen’s courage was quieter, but equally formidable. She simply refused to give up on seeing the good in people. (If you don’t think that takes courage, then I applaud you for the sheltered life you’ve managed to lead thus far!) She was continually searching for the best in everyone, was not at all shy about sharing her joy, and was incessantly hopeful, which, as we’ve discussed at length, is something altogether different from being optimistic.
But where did this courage come from?
Some years ago, when we were living in the same town, a sign went up at Lent in front of a church down the road from the neighborhoods where my friend Lisa and I lived. It was someone’s attempt at being pithy, which usually would have both of us rolling our eyes, but something about this sign caught our attention. It said:
Lisa and I amended it to suit our purposes over the years, texting variations back and forth as needed:
Sometimes — often on a Friday evening — we veered towards more earthly, less spiritual variations:
And at other times, we used it to complain:
But we kept coming back to one variation; the one that covered all the bases:
It seemed that whenever the chips were down or tough decisions had to be made, relentless love was what we needed.
I think relentless love is at the core of all four of the lives I’ve mentioned: Luigi’s dad, Mark Shand, Michael Herr, and my friend Jen. Whether it’s a love for humankind, for God’s creation, for the written word, or for your children, relentless love is what motivates us to take bold steps. It’s what pushes us to live lives that matter. It’s what gives us the courage to leap into the unknown, to keep our heads up when the chips are down, to get out of bed on the mornings when a few extra months of sleep seem like a good idea. You’ve got to love someone, or something — and yourself — enough to want to make a difference in your world.
There’s no “one right answer” to the question of relentless love; nothing that isn’t good enough, or doesn’t qualify. Whether your love is art or finances, teaching or learning, your kids or your parents, a hobby or your profession, God or Buddha, academics or athletics, your home or your church….it ought to be something that you would fight for. Something that gives you the courage to live a life that is bold. Colorful. True. Worthy of this being your only passage, your one time through, on Earth.
And I hope it inspires you — like Mark Shand and Michael Herr and Luigi’s dad and Jen — to leave behind a legacy that will live on in the people who’ve been lucky enough to know you. Because life, as those four people would attest, is too short to be lived any other way.
PS: Forgotten why Mark Shand and Michael Herr are on my Top Five of Authors I Love? Word Nerd
PS2: Now, I know you haven’t forgotten the difference between hope and optimism…have you?!(Never mind if you have – here’s the chance to see Desmond Tutu’s smiling face again!) Et lux in tenebris lucent