To Laugh Properly
Here is our fifth and final post based on the wonderful article the Top Five Regrets of the Dying. This article gets to the heart of the matter when it comes to living life fully and abundantly. We hope that you have been inspired by its wisdom and what it teaches us about what really matters in life.
5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.
This is a surprisingly common one. Many did not realize until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called ‘comfort’ of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content, when deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again.
Several years ago I (Michael) co-led a retreat near Baltimore, MD, for people living with cancer. The time we shared together was intense, inspiring, invigorating, illuminating and instructive. At the end of the week my mind and heart were overflowing with the spirit of the good people I met and the insights they taught me about what it was like to live with a life-threatening and life-altering condition.
But it was a deceptively simple act near the end of the retreat that continues to be my strongest memory from the week.
There was one soft spoken man, age 44, who was weakened from his particular cancer. His wife, who attended with him, needed to help and support him as he got around during the week. They lived on the sunny coast of Florida. Since the retreat was held in January in the cold northeast, it was especially challenging for his body to remain warm and comfortable. But he persevered quietly throughout his time there, anxious to absorb any wisdom he could as struggled to live with his challenging circumstance.
During the afternoon and through the last night of the retreat it snowed. It was beautiful. The wooded countryside surrounding the retreat center was especially magical in the twilight moments that day. At dinner that night our friend from Florida came alive. The snow, which he hadn’t seen in years and years, absolutely enchanted him. He was so excited to see it, to feel it on his face, to delight in its splendor.
It gave him an idea.
The next morning, after our last session and as everyone began their wistful goodbyes, he announced that he wanted to do something he had never done before. He wanted to lie in the snow and make a snow angel. His childlike wonder at the miracle of the snow transported him back to a simpler time, an innocent time in which disease did not threaten and his future was still open and bright.
So, he was gently helped down into an undefiled blanket of snow, in at least six inches of it, where he slowly spread his arms and legs to create the angels. For those moments he was free. He was young. He was not in pain. He was not weak.
He laughed and laughed. Properly. Deep down, from inside. His laughter transported us all. A moment of silliness in his life again. A deeply needed moment of silliness and fun, of relief and release. For him and for all those living with cancer who shared in his joy.
Not too many months later he was gone. The cancer, sadly, ended his life all too soon.
But his moment of joy, of laughter, of silliness, of release, lives on forever.
That afternoon, as I drove home from that place, a song came on the radio, a song that made me cry. It was Live Like You were Dying, the Tim McGraw classic:
“I was in my early forties
With a lot of life before me
And a moment came that stopped me on a dime
I spent most of the next days
Looking at the x-rays
Talkin’ ’bout the options
And talkin’ ’bout sweet time”
I asked him
“When it sank in
That this might really be the real end
How’s it hit you
When you get that kind of news?
Man, what’d you do?”
“I went skydiving
I went Rocky Mountain climbing
I went 2.7 seconds on a bull named Fu Man Chu
And I loved deeper
And I spoke sweeter
And I gave forgiveness I’d been denying”
And he said
“Someday I hope you get the chance
To live like you were dying”…
It might not have been skydiving, Rocky Mountain climbing or bull riding. But that frail snow angel was my friend’s moment to live. He was dying. But the new fallen snow that morning gave him one more moment to do it without regret.
One more moment to laugh properly.