Are love and friendships illusions, or life's purpose?
Having tuned into the Psychologies theme of friendship in recent weeks, I came across a quote from Orson Welles, which is both profound and thought provoking. 'We're born alone, we live alone, and we die alone. Only through our love and friendships can we create the illusion for the moment, that we're not alone' I like the quote, but take issue with the word illusion. I will explain why.
One of my briefest yet memorable experiences came when visiting my grandfather in one of his last years, when living in York. I used to smoke at that time and popped out of his flat for a quick cigarette. When I got outside I met an old lady called Mary and decided to chat to her rather than light up. It was a good decision- she was one of the most serene and centered people I have ever met and her presence and brief story have stayed with me for years.
Mary told me that she was originally from the mid-west of America and had moved to the UK with her husband, after the war. They did not have children but stayed happily married for many years and made many good friends along the way. Her husband, and most if not all of the friends had now died and because she had lived in the UK for most of her adult life, she had lost contact with her few remaining relatives in America. Now, aside from the companionship of my grandfather and one or two others, she was on her own.
My first reaction was the most obvious one- how lonely. However, what struck me about Mary was that she was anything but lonely, and showed no signs of regret. She had clearly led a good life and had reached a point of acceptance and serenity. I could sense this by virtue of her presence, but she said as much as well. She now lived alone and would die all but alone, but she was not alone. It was clear to me that far from being an 'illusion' her loves and friendships were still with her in every sense but the physical. Of course there was an air of sadness about her, but it was her spirit which impressed me and has stayed with me to this day.
Bronnie Ware, who was a palliative care nurse, wrote a book reflecting on the regrets of the dying, based on her close relationships and conversations with her patients.These are the top five;
1/ I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the one other people expected of me.
2/I wish I hadn't worked so hard.
3/I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings.
4/I wish I'd stayed in touch with my friends.
5/I wish I'd let myself be happier.
The last point is particularly interesting to me because it implies that happiness can be a choice, if you allow it to be. Sadly, many people do not and I am struck by how often they allow a negative or self-critical voice to dominate, rather than the voice of kindness and self-acceptance which I heard from Mary.
The list is interesting for what it does not include, as well as what it does. Notice no mention of I wish I had made CEO by 40, or made my millions and retired by 50. In the final analysis it seems that people are more inclined look at and identify the things which really matter and to regret the important priorities they may have ignored, or lost sight of. Time is our most precious, irreplaceable gift and many people regret spending too much of it chasing shadows and the ego driven stuff, It is the loves, friendships and relationships which really matter. Invest in them wisely and stay mindful of your important priorities, and the words Carpe Diem may just take on a new meaning. One of the benefits (and compensations) of getting older is that you begin to see that this is the case and accept positive changes into your life which allow it to be so. If you can learn to do it sooner, all the better.
We may live and die alone in a physical sense but we are more than simply physical creatures and our relationships with others ensure that this is so. This is why Welles' use of the work 'illusion' in the opening quote Jars with me. The French philosopher-priest Pierre Teilard de Chardin expresses it far more eloquently;
'We are not human beings having a spiritual experience. We are spiritual beings having a human experience'
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