First off, thank you so much for the wonderful email you sent me the other day. I always enjoy them, even though I have to scan them first and see how long they are before I can actually start the process of reading them. I just am trying to figure out if I can read the entire email in one sitting or if I need to block off an afternoon.
I hope you don’t mind, but I am actually going to respond to your email publicly. I will send you an actual email with the same response, but I just needed something to write about and this seemed like a good idea. I didn’t want to try and answer the question/assignment like a story or an event like the journalistic style I have done in the past. This is too personal, and to try and put makeup on it, just seems a bit dirty if you know what I mean.
I loved the question, or should I say, I loved the story leading up to the assignment. Yes, the New York Times Op-Ed assignment is in the works (although I know it will never get posted), but it is a great test of writing assignment to try and come up with something that is powerful and perhaps even life changing. I will keep you posted on the process and will allow you to proof it before I submit. But I think the answer to your question will help you understand the reason for the op-ed piece, to give you a bit more insight about why I chose my topic and the thoughts and feelings behind it.
Okay, back to the actual question at hand. What is something I have lurking inside of me that I would regret not doing if I were to die tomorrow..and why haven’t I just done the damn thing. I know I am paraphrasing the question, but I got what you were saying, and I am sure you are about to understand what I am saying.
I have no desire to jump out of a plane, run a marathon, or even drive across America, although I did drive halfway across America once, but that’s for another story at another time. I have thought about being on my deathbed, many times actually, only because I have been next to several on theirs. To try and put myself in their shoes was perhaps the greatest, yet saddest experience I have ever had. To hold the hand of someone laying there, knowing they are about to pass to the other side, and wondering what their regrets are, and thinking to oneself what you would do if in the same position, may quite possibly be the greatest last gift one can give. The gift of reflection.
There is a wonderful scene from Indecent Proposal (a horrible movie, but a great scene), where Robert Redford’s character talks about regret. I won’t bore you with the details, I will simply attach the clip and let you watch for yourself. But it talks about the girl that got away. I always loved this particular scene, because he is so genuine and honest in its telling, almost as if he has a story to tell about a girl himself, in his own past life. I think we all do, we all have this story to tell about a missed chance, and this clip is something I watched before answering your question. Not that my regrets are about missing out on a girl (which of course, there is that story and I may tell you about that someday), but just the haunting we have with regret.
So if dying Mark is in a bed, taking his last breaths, what is it I say to the young Mark, what is the thing I would do if I could only turn back the clock of life and do it all over again, if I could? First off, let me say that I am lucky, and if I were to pass soon, I have lived a wonderful and fulfilling life. I got to travel and see, I got to love and lost, and I got to be and become. To add to my story is to only add more sweetness to a birthday cake, and more love to a smile. I have lived, but I will answer your question.
I would have helped more.
It really is that simple for me. I can’t think of one other thing or act or place that can truly substitute the feeling I feel when I do something, especially if it is for the service of one. You remember the story I was telling you about my little obsession with the TV show Quantum Leap? Think of my response to that question and somewhat morph it into the response of this one. Many people have traveled the world trying to find themselves and have gone to the edge of the planet looking for the greatest adventures. I can honestly tell you the most beautiful sunset I experienced was sitting on top of a cinderblock hospital, looking down on a dirt covered road, talking to a doctor friend whom I had just met, about the death of a man that had just occurred. I have sat on the beaches of Maui and witnessed the physical setting of the sun over the vast ocean that stretched for miles, but the greatest sunset took place in the poorest country in the western hemisphere, under the shittiest conditions. And why? Because a sunset is only as wonderful as the thoughts that you reflect upon when it is setting, when the door is closing, when the eyelids are closing for the final time.
Those sunsets mean something because I meant something. I was dirty, tired, emotional, and perhaps even a little scared, but that sunset felt more real to me than any other. And that is what I want my last breath to be like. I want my last thought to be about what I did, not what I was able to do (I think you will understand what I mean by that). I want God or St. Peter, or whomever or whatever is on the other side of the veil of death to hold my hand and tell me “you did good kid, you did good”. I don’t think I will be asked about how the snow was in Colorado that one year, or what I thought about food in Italy (although I do want to find out about that one).
I simply want to do more, and in the process of doing that, I will get the adventure I seek. I will get the food I want to taste. Third world countries are beautiful places, because they give you a wonderful glimpse of the true beauty of people, but also the horrific insight of just how evil man can be. You want to truly live, then you need to feel helpless, you need to stand in front of someone with a gun that doesn’t understand you, but understands that you are there to help, and that is the only reason he hasn’t pulled the trigger on the white man whom he is supposed to hate. You need to hold the hand of someone dying, who isn’t someone you love, but someone who loves that you are there because no one else is. You, in perhaps the last few days of their struggling filled life, may have offered them the slightest amount of peace and tranquility.
That’s what I want more of, that’s the damn thing I want to do, is to get back on a plane to a place that no one wants to go to for vacation, and help the people that can never leave. To get in a truck and drive to a reservation and help people who once owned this land but now have been betrayed by the government that swore to protect them. I simply want to share my privilege with people who don’t have any.
This isn’t meant to sound self gratifying or an ego trip, I think you know me a bit better than that, and know where I am coming from, but it is just the answer to the question you asked, and deep down, you already knew the answer to it.
I love to write, but the love to write only comes from my love of emotion, which only comes from putting oneself in a place to be emotional. That’s what I want, to put myself in a place to be emotional and to be able to put others there. To walk hand and hand with people through the spectrum of love and hate, happy and sad. I want to go to the physical place they can’t go, but write in such a way that they can at least share in the emotion of it all.
I read National Geographic as a kid, and although I will never go to the places they went, I was there with them because of the picture they painted with their words. I want to help one part of the world survive, and write about the conditions so that the other half of the world will understand why they struggle. And in doing so, maybe bridge the gap the physical world has placed on people and cultures. We fear what we don’t understand, so maybe if we learn to understand people, we will stop fearing one another and quit being so damn mean.
Be well friend, I will continue to work on the other stuff we had talked about, and I can’t wait to read the stuff you are working on as well. I’m sure I will add some more to this story at another time and another place. One last thought before I go. I cannot talk to my child about doing good if he doesn’t see me doing it myself. I can’t teach him empathy if he doesn’t see me empathetic, and he certainly doesn’t understand helping if I don’t show him. Maybe God isn’t the only one that I hope to hear “you did good, kid” from when I am on my deathbed.
Just a thought.