Every man’s life ends the same way. It is only the details of how he lived and how he died that distinguish one man from another. ~ Hemingway
I’m going to take a moment and delve into this quote for a bit. I’m sure this topic has been written about extensively in the past, but every so often, I like to contemplate this point.
As a person who tends to value her nomadic tendencies over stability, quotes like this become a security blanket when things get a little grey. So, I tend to reflect back on all the details of my life, how I’ve lived and if I died tomorrow, what would be my epitaph. What would people who knew me say?
An interesting question. For an artist, I’d like to reflect on a career of tear-sheets from amazing magazines, a couple pulitzers and maybe an award winning documentary or two- yes, I think Oscar needs to sit on my desk one day. As a writer, maybe a nobel prize in literature or a best seller would help me feel that sense of achievement that has actual tangible recognitions from society attached to them. Alas, I have achieved none of those moments of greatness- yet. So, what do I reflect upon when I think of the details that distinguish my life from the person sitting next to me in the coffee shop?
Stories. Lots of stories. Stories gathered from spending 15 years doing random things and traveling to the far reaches of America and the world beyond. I look back on all the people I’ve met in my travels-people whose names escape me but with whom I shared true moments of time. The old fisherman from Alaska who took my for a ride on his Harley in the deserts of Arizona; the driver from Madaba, Jordan who took me all over his town and would stop traffic to come say hello when I was walking down the street in his town; the woman I photographed for a morning in the hills of Nepal who shared her precious, limited breakfast with me; the man who shared beers with me on an late night Amtrak and told me the story of the love of his life passing away in his arms or the night I spend with fellow travelers on top of a Himalayan ridge in a chai walla, drinking chai, playing chess and listening to the World Cup on a radio. Those are the details that have made my life rich.
People. My friends and family. I can look back at the people I’ve shared moments with, people I’ve loved and laughed with, and feel a sense of fulfillment. I’m inherently shy, but I was graced by my parents with their love of people and their desires to be social. Conversation was a high commodity of my home and it was implied that you would partake in a soda, a beer or two or some coffee and conversation with my father on the porch. Its just the way we were. So, as an adult, I’ve been blessed with a wide and diverse group of friends. I look at these interactions as a major detail that makes my life rich beyond anything that money could provide. And I look at some of these friendships and see that our paths were altered by our crossings.
Catalysts. I enjoy being a catalyst in people’s lives. In a good way, of course. I value this as, hopefully, a major contribution to people’s lives. We all have catalysts in our lives. Sometimes it’s an event, sometimes it’s a person; but those catalysts leave us altered. Hopefully for the better. I have a dear friend, a soul mate, who is also a catalyst. She touches people’s lives and they are never quite the same again- her energy just makes people happy and calm. My mom was blessed with this trait too and I like to think she has passed it along to her two daughters- though its manifestation in us is a little different than in her. Point being, to be a catalyst in someone’s life that pushes them to see beyond their reality, to embrace the possibilities of their life, to question their role in society and how they live their life, is an amazing gift. We all have the potential to be a catalyst and I believe that if you can look back on your life and see the positive catalysts that you’ve left behind- be it upon a large population that benefited from your giving or in individual lives that you’ve touched, through actions and words- than you’ve had a life well led.
So when I contemplate the bylines and awards that have yet to be written on my CV, I look to the stories I’ve gathered and shared over the years and I smile. I look to the family and friends I am touched by and my heart is warmed. I look to the catalysts I’ve created with those that I’ve interacted with and I think, if I were to face my mortality tomorrow, I’ve had a life well led.
And when I look at the heart-breaking images from Haiti, I wonder, what were the details of that person lying under the white sheet. What were the catalysts that person left behind? And what details will never be?
What are your details? What moments and stories distinguish you from the person next to you? If you were to leave this world tomorrow, what would people say about your life?