Why Your Life Matters
- 2011 January-February
In the 1990s I spent many happy years living in a beautiful apartment overlooking the River Thames in London. Then, in the summer of ’96, everything came crashing down. After finding that my then-partner had been cheating fairly consistently, I ended the relationship. The day we broke up and moved out of that wonderful apartment was one of the most tortured of my life.
“Should I have stayed and tried to fix things?” I asked myself. “Have I done the right thing?”
As I handed in my keys and sat waiting for a shuttle bus to the train station, a small Asian woman came tripping in. This was Mrs. Phoong, a successful doctor from Singapore who owned an apartment in the same block. Bubbly and outgoing, she chattered endlessly, while I sat beside her on the bus, barely listening. All I could think about was the shattered relationship, the lost apartment, and “Have I done the right thing?”
Before I caught my train that day, I had errands to run. First, the bank.
“Okay. I come with you,” Mrs. Phoong said, following me.
And she did. This little woman stood in line for 10 minutes with me while I waited to cash a check. Not only that, but she continued following me for the next half hour, from the bank to the drugstore to the post office, waiting quietly while I sorted the mail from my PO box.
“Where you go now?” she asked afterwards.
I told her that I had a train to catch, so . . . good-bye. “It’s been good knowing you, but I really must go.”
Well, this seemed to distress her enormously, and she began to cry.
Oh, good grief. “Look, I’m sorry,” I said. “I don’t mean to offend you, but —”
“No, it’s okay,” she said through her tears. “I have a message for you, that’s all.”
“A message? Who from?”
“I travel the world, searching for people, and when I find them, I am so happy. I have been looking for you. I have a message . . . from your angels.”
“Er . . . okay.” Clearly, she was out of her mind. Hearing voices. Stalking innocent people. “So what is it? Because I really have to leave.”
With that, she looked directly at me and said, “You’ve done the right thing.”
That was it. That was the message!
A demolition ball couldn’t have hit me harder. It was the answer to the question I’d been asking myself just a half-hour before, but she couldn’t have known that.
This, she maintained, was her mission in life. A voice would tell her to go somewhere, to find someone. At which point she would drop everything and follow these promptings in complete obedience, honoring her role as a beacon.
“You’re amazing,” I told her, in tears myself by now. “We must keep in touch.”
“No, it’s okay.” And with a little wave and a polite nod of the head, she disappeared off down the path of the post office and out the gate.
I’ve haven’t heard from Mrs. Phoong since. But I can tell you, that day opened my eyes to realms of divine possibility that had, up to that point, been completely hidden from me. What if it were our destiny, in some weird way, to make that small connection and help complete the circle for people we barely know? Now, I too am trying to do the same thing. Listening, waiting for directions, obeying.
A Single Example
Four years ago, my partner and I met an art professor at a party. A beautiful and very accomplished woman, she was in her 40s and, surprisingly, still single. “I’ve had a terrible time finding a decent guy,” she admitted. “It’s not been easy.” She added as we left, “Please find me a man.”
To this day, she has no idea what prompted her to say this to two total strangers, but she did, and we took the challenge seriously. It felt like a call to service.
A few weeks later, we invited her to a dinner party at our house and arranged it so that she was seated next to a single guy I knew, a sound engineer I’d worked with at NPR. To our delight, the two of them hit it off immediately, talking nonstop. In fact, later that night, as I was going to bed, I happened to glance out of the window and found them still standing under a streetlamp, chatting up a storm. It was very gratifying.
As I said, that was four years ago. Today, they’re married, and never a month goes by when she doesn’t call to thank us for changing her life in such a miraculous way.
Beyond Random Acts
I dare say you have a few instances of your own, a handful of It’s a Wonderful Life-type situations where, if you hadn’t been present at that precise second, things might have gone very differently for someone else. These, I would suggest, are not random acts of kindness, as is commonly understood, but moments when the essence of your true divinity breaks through and shows itself.
You never know when these calls to service might come; that’s what makes it so exciting. It could be something as simple as reaching out to open a door for someone laden with shopping bags, or buying lunch for a beggar on the street, or smiling at a passerby on the subway. Fleeting things, barely significant on one level. Yet even the smallest gesture like this can create massive ripples. For all you know, the sandwich you bought that day may have made the difference between the beggar’s living or dying; and your smile on the subway may have come at the lowest, most desperate point in a stranger’s life, restoring his faith in the goodness of people. Maybe that person was so down by that stage that he’d have killed himself otherwise. You don’t know. And you never will. Your mission is not to ask why or how but to follow the nudging of your soul, submit to the subtle maneuverings of the universe as it ensures you’re in the right place at the right time to perform what’s expected of you, and then simply give, do, listen, speak, interact — whatever the moment calls for to fulfill your pact with the divine.
A Contract for Living
It’s what medical intuitive Carolyn Myss calls a “sacred contract.”
Before we’re born, she says, while we’re still in spirit, our soul makes a series of deals with other souls; deals that will help us to learn, change, and grow as our lives play out here on the earth plane.
In some cases, this call to service can involve real personal sacrifice. That’s what happened with Matthew Shepard.
In 1998, you will recall, the 21-year-old Wyoming student was attacked and murdered in horrendous circumstances, simply for being gay. This tragedy caused shock waves throughout America. Yet out of something so negative has come a historic positive: his mother, Judy, became a passionate human-rights campaigner. As a result, the Matthew Shepard Act was signed into law last year by President Obama, making it a hate crime to attack people because of their sexual orientation. If Shepard hadn’t given his life 12 years ago, that wouldn’t have happened.
Now, to some, this notion will seem fanciful and far-fetched — I realize that. But for me, it’s become a useful template for living, completely changing the way I act toward people.
Nowadays, I approach every encounter as if it might be a part of my spiritual contract; my opportunity to step up to the plate. With that in mind, I smile, I give, I help, I participate, I engage in every way I can, reaching out unreservedly, with a deep trust that there’s a bigger reason behind even the most minor events.
And What If I Refuse?
Of course, this raises the question: what would happen if I didn’t step up?
Many years ago, Gary Zukav, author of The Seat of the Soul, was talking to Oprah about suicide and what happens to your soul if you take your own life prematurely. His answer moves me even now.
First, he indicated that we all have free will; if you choose to kill yourself, then that is your prerogative, but it has consequences. “One day in the future,” he said, “someone will walk into a room and find you’re not there.” Unconsciously, that person will know a connection was to be made and that a vital link is missing from the chain. “Where is he?” she’ll say to herself. “Why is he not here?”
To me, that’s heartbreaking. I was needed, and I failed to show up. By checking out early, I missed a vital contact point with destiny that could have changed someone else’s life. I could never allow that to happen.
In a world dominated by ego, this is a huge threshold to cross — that it’s not about me. It was never about me; it was about us. All of us. What if we are here simply to be beacons for one another? I step up for a stranger one day; maybe a stranger steps up for me the next. That’s all life is. Opportunities for our beacons to shine. Everything else is just filler.
We all receive these intuitive promptings: do this, go there, speak to that stranger, give that bum some money, pick up the phone and call so-and-so. These are our spiritual contracts at work. Our calls to service. But how many of us actually follow them without question?
The next contact point with destiny could come at any time, and we need to be ready. Knowing this, though, dispenses with so much fear and anxiety. If I have a set number of contact points to fulfill in my life, why do I worry and struggle and fret so much? Why am I always fighting to make things happen, or trying to control events, or rushing to be somewhere and do something — stressing out over so many small, unimportant things that don’t matter, when, seen in the longer, broader view, it’s not about me? Increasingly, I realize I can take my hand off the tiller and allow my soul to take charge. As long as I have contracts to fulfill, I’ll be safe and guided.
I find that very reassuring.