Another Lesson from My Mom

October 7, 2007

I’ve had more response from my last post, “Lessons from My Mom on Staying Young Forever,” than just about any other post I’ve written. I so wish she were here to see all these books being published, one after the other. She would doubtless have a caustic and hilarious comment; and she, ever the devoted writer, would be so thrilled.

The best I can do is offer this additional piece in her honor (again, it’s from The Zen of MLM).

When The Go-Giver comes out after Christmas, you’ll notice that the dedication page says, “To Mike and Myrna Burg and Alfred and Carolyn Mann, who gave us everything.” Indeed they did.

How does your day end? Do you succumb to gravity and crash into the mattress, feeling defeated? Nod off to the chatter of the television? Or spend a moment looking back over the panorama of your day and pronounce it, like God on the sixth day, “Very good”?

Some nights, I hate the idea of going to bed, resist it like a hyperactive 8-year-old, because I feel there’s still so much to do. I’m not satisfied with what I got done during the day, don’t want the opportunity to end. Other days, I welcome the rest and look forward eagerly to sleeping, and when I feel myself hit the sheets, actually let out a big Ahhhhh of satisfaction, as if I had eaten all my dinner and as a reward have now been served a delicious dessert.

That latter is how I like my days to end. It is also how I want my life to end.

And you? How do you want your life to end?

“Eeuuwww, that’s too macabre—I don’t want to think about it.”

But hang on. They’re not so different: how you end your days, and how you end this day. It occurs to me that what your entire life amounts to is simply the sum of whatever your individual days amount to. As the Virginia Woolf character says in the magnificent film, The Hours: “Always to look life in the face and know it for what it is … always the years between us; always the love; always the hours.”

Our lives really do come down to this: how we spend each day. Always the days; always the hours.

I once asked a friend, Scott Ohlgren, if he knew what, when the time came, would be his preferred cause of death. He answered with a single word: “Use.” I love that. Another friend, Gianni Ortiz, once shared with me her preferred exit strategy: “To be taken by a sniper’s bullet while in an asana at a yoga retreat.” Now that’s a classy way to go.

What are the hours like for you? How does your day end? How does it flow? Is it brimming over with joy, with excitement, with fulfillment? Have you seen through the illusion of “someday” and made the decision to live a life of vigor, élan and passion right now, today, and not just “someday”?

Too often, we have turned Rene Descartes’s famous dictum, “I think, therefore I am,” into the modern achievement-obsessed, “I do, therefore I am.” We too easily confuse our accomplishments with our selves, as if productivity were the sole measure and evidence of our worth.

Funny thing, too, about Descartes: The Power of Now’s Eckhart Tolle says he got it precisely wrong—that it’s only when we’re thinking that past and future come into existence and we lose touch with present reality. According to Tolle, the truth is closer to this: I think, therefore I am not—but when I stop thinking, I am.

As I write these words, it is exactly ten years since my mom put aside her toys, donned her PJs and crawled into bed for the final goodnight.

When I was little, she once told me, I had a peculiar way of preparing for bed. I would brush my teeth, say goodnight, then slip into my room and change back into my day clothes, carefully make my bed, and lie down to sleep on top of the covers. Observing this one night, my mom inquired, what was my purpose? According to her, my answer came without hesitation:

“That’s so when I wake up in the morning, I’ll be ready to get up and play right away, without any distractions.”

I like to think that’s how she felt when she closed her eyes for the last time.

I like to think that’s how I’ll feel the last time I close mine.


(Photo: The Manns in 1972, Leipzig to perform Bach. L to R: Carolyn, Johnny, Adrian, Alfred)

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