Let me start by saying I wasn't trying to discover my passion in life. Of course I had heard many say that one should find and follow one's passion in life to be happy and successful. There are books written on the subject, blog posts and websites with lists of questions to ask one's self to discover it, as well as courses offered on the subject by websites and even churches. I had no urgency about finding my passion, as I had been working successfully for over thirty years in a career that I enjoyed and it always kept the wolves at bay. I had a lot of interests in life which occupied whatever free time my work allowed. Mostly my life was goal oriented, following the path to accomplish that next purpose. So I had never tried any of those approaches, as there was apparently no need.
But my approach to life began to change in the summer of 2009 when Marcia got her diagnosis of cancer, not long after I learned that one of my very best friends in college had succumbed from a heart attack. Life had become more precious and my generation no longer enjoyed a really long future, the immortality of youth. One began to think more seriously about what to do with whatever time one might have left. Then on November 1, 2009 when Marcia passed on, I found myself in new, uncharted territory. Suddenly all that mattered was to deal with our loss, as the mourning process began. There was no purpose to achieve, no clear path to follow, no timetable to meet a deadline. Thankfully, Marcia's suffering had finally ended. Nothing could be done to bring her back. But how would I deal with this?
At her memorial service, I listened in my grief to her friend and minister of forty-three years and his wife tell about her life, stories going back to 1966. Then her son gave a beautiful, emotional, chronological account of her life, story after story after story that illustrated the strength and character of his mother, who he clearly loves and respects very much. There we all were, her friends and family, enjoying these stories, learning all kinds of interesting things about her life, and remembering those parts we had experienced directly.
As I looked around the room, I could see we were all genuinely grateful to hear more about her life and to discover things we hadn't known. But it suddenly dawned on me that there had not been a single story told that I had not already heard, directly from Marcia! I had known her for nearly forty years, but only intimately during the last decade of her life. I realized that during those ten years, Marcia had shared with me everything she considered precious and important about her life. A huge wave of gratitude came over me as I realized how lucky I had been to share that time with her. This feeling was a blessing, but quickly an even stronger, transcendent feeling of pride and joy welled up inside of me, as I realized the particular bond we had developed was a gift she gave only to me, a very strong and intimate connection, which I will always keep close to my heart and will never ever forget.
This brought me a huge amount of relief and peace. I resolved to always honor her memory, and attend to whatever came my way in this mourning process. The grief had been replaced by the wave of gratitude. I still thought of her every day, but I was in no hurry for that to change, or to "get over it" in any way. I would just see how life would go now. I was open to any thoughts or feelings I had about her, was willing to accept any communication I had to her, or from her, and remained open to any other ideas that might come my way.
And it was with that open attitude that I planned to celebrate her birthday on January 24, 2010. I've already written about that evening when I listened to Mahler's "Farewell to Life" and realized that I needed to experience more live classical music in my life, which led to my planning the series of concerts that I have been attending. And now I've written about the first concert with the performance of The Planets (don't forget the Corn Nuts), the magnificent performance of Mahler's Resurrection Symphony and the transcendent moment I experienced upon the completion of the Rachmaninoff 3rd Piano Concerto.
But now it's time to go back to February 10, 2010, the evening before that first concert in the series. I had made the final plans with my Chiro Friend for getting to the concert hall for the show. She had never attended a symphony orchestra concert, so I had briefed her on what to expect. I told her she could wear a ballroom gown, but then relented and admitted that concerts were no longer quite that formal. In fact, I assured her that I would probably not even wear a tie, just a nice sweater.
So the night before the concert I decided to pick out what I would wear from my closet. I slid open the closet door and began to pull out sports jackets for consideration. As I looked over the shirts, I began to think about ties and I had this strong feeling that one goes with the other. So I pulled out some ties and found myself selecting which tie would look the best with the shirt and jacket I had chosen. I set them aside, so they were ready for the following evening. Okay, I was going to wear a tie after all, in spite of what I had told my Chiro Friend! Somehow, that felt very good. I went to bed looking forward to the next day and the start of my concert season.
Only I couldn't get to sleep right away, as I thought about how I felt as I picked out those clothes. A comfortable, familiar feeling had come over me. I was feeling very much at home, in a safe frame of mind. What was this feeling? Was it because I was going to wear a jacket that Marcia had bought me many years earlier? No, it went deeper than that. I was pulled back to 1964, getting ready for one of the dozens of concerts that I attended as a student at Oberlin College, where we always wore a jacket and tie, both at concerts and at dinner every evening. Decades later I had been experiencing that same delicious anticipation from getting ready to see another live performance of music. It was a dance I had been through so many times, which always led to a very positive and enjoyable experience.
As I had been going through the mourning process, I had been paying close attention to my feelings and seeing where they would lead me. And that's what I did again that night. Only this time, parts of my life began to fall into place like a puzzle. The feeling I had when I began the process of dressing for a concert was the key that unlocked the door and all the connections came tumbling out. I began to look over parts of my life, the important parts, and my life began to make sense, in a way that had never occurred before. As more and more of these connections came to mind, I began to get more and more excited, as the epiphany fully took hold of my consciousness.
Far too excited to sleep, I finally switched on the light and pulled out the notebook by my bed and started to write, summing up my life, as I now clearly saw it, in one single line.
2:43 AM What ties my life together: MUSIC! 2/10/10
2:43 AM What ties my life together: MUSIC! 2/10/10
This was followed by five pages of single spaced writing, listing one example after another of that realization, covering events from all periods in my life, going all the way back to before I started grade school. I finally stopped after listing fifty of these examples from my life. My understanding of my life had taken a quantum leap forward.
I had discovered the thread that ran through my entire life. I had discovered my passion in life.
The mourning process had gotten me to open up my attention, to let it reach out in all directions, not just the path ahead. And finally I came to see what held my life together. I had always concentrated on the path to my goals. The beautiful green trees were always there, but they didn't lead anywhere. It was the path that lead somewhere and so it was the path that needed to be followed. Or so I thought.
Those trees had always been there. They were so much always there, that I didn't realize this was anything unusual or special about my life. They were so much a part of me that I didn't even recognize that they define who I am. It wasn't until February 10, 2010 that I finally got a look at the forest from above. And then I realized that it was a forest, not just a path passing through pretty green trees.
Of course the forest is the music, my love for music, my passion for music, that holds together all phases of my life and makes it uniquely MY LIFE. Realizing this has changed everything. I have given myself some time to let this sink in, perhaps to make sure that I'm not just delusional. I'm not. This is important and real.
As I said at the outset, I wasn't looking for this understanding. And if the question had been posed to me, "What is your passion in life?" I would have said, "I don't know." Or maybe I would have said that I was passionate about a lot of things, and I'm not sure that One Single Passion in Life is possible, or worth trying to discover. Marcia once wrote that I am an "honorable and passionate man." I liked that, because I knew I could feel passion and express passion at times, and it felt really good to do that. But how could there be a Single Passion in my life?
But there can be, if you realize that the passion can be as big as a forest going out in all directions and off into the distance. And there are a lot of paths down there among the trees, but what is most important is the beauty, strength and stability of the forest. Even though I wasn't looking for it, I'm very glad I found it. And now I encourage everyone, including you, to take a look around and notice what is always there in your life, that makes you YOU. And if you're fortunate like me, and you discover your passion, I think you'll find that it brings a lot of order to your past and it orients you in a positive way that you may not have previously experienced. And if this does happen for you, tell me about it in the comments. I would be very interested in your experiences.