It was almost midnight on an idle Tuesday and the hospital hallways were unusually calm. I had just finished reading an old issue of Sports Illustrated from cover to cover. “I need something better to read,” I thought to myself. “Why didn’t I bring a book?”
As I sat quietly with my eyes closed, I could vaguely hear the soft mumbles of a verbal plea going on in the hospital room beside me. “You’ve kept him waiting long enough! My grandson is here! Oh please, let him in.” More mumbling… “Please, please… nurse, bring him to me.”
A moment later the nurse stormed out of the room and looked startled to see me waiting in the hall. “Oh, you’re here!” he yelped. “I’m sorry. I’m a hospice nurse and I’ve only been watching over your grandmother for the past 24 hours. She insisted that you were coming to visit her last night too, but the phone numbers she gave me to reach you were all disconnected. So, she had me scouring the hospital hallways looking for you to no avail. And then when she said you were coming again this evening, I just assumed her dementia was getting the best of her.”
He interrupted me. “But I’m really glad you’re here. I think she’s been holding on just so she can say goodbye to you. It’s actually miraculous that she’s still able to speak, because her body is rapidly shutting down. The doctor gave her 24 hours to live exactly 24 hours ago.”
“My goodness, that’s…”
He interrupted again. “Sir, once more, I’m truly sorry. I had no idea you were out here waiting. And time is up. These are her final few moments. Please follow me.”
I stood up and the nurse guided me into the room. “Your grandson is here,” he announced from the doorway. The old woman’s eyes lit up. “Oh grace… oh joy!” She looked right at me and smiled with all the might she had left in her weak body. “I knew you’d come see me.”
I sat down at her bedside and placed my hand over hers, interlocking our fingers and squeezing ever so slightly in an attempt to show affection. She squeezed back and said, “Thank you,” and then tried to speak again, but she was too exhausted. Instead, she stared directly into my eyes and held her smile for several minutes as we continued to hold hands. Finally, she closed her eyes and rested.
For nearly an hour I didn’t move. I sat there in silence as she maintained a soft grip on my hand. Then slowly, her grip loosened and her breathing slowed. For a moment, I thought she was falling into a deeper sleep, but then her breathing stopped altogether.
I let go of her lifeless hand and used the emergency call button to summon the nurse. The nurse hustled in, covered the body with a white sheet, recorded a few notes on his tablet, and then began to offer his condolences…
“I’m really sorry for your loss,” he said. “Have you made any funeral arrangements?”
“I don’t even know her name,” I replied.
“What do you mean?” he asked. “She’s your grandmother.”
“No, she’s not,” I assured him. “Prior to stepping foot in this room, I had never met her before in my life. I’m here at the hospital waiting for my friend who needs a few stitches on his chin.”
He looked confused. “I don’t understand. If you don’t know her, then why didn’t you say so? And why did you sit beside her for the last hour?”
I smiled. “Well, I knew immediately that she wasn’t my grandmother. But when you informed me of her story and life expectancy, I also knew that her real grandson, if he actually exists, wasn’t going to make it in time. Curiosity got the best of me and I followed you into the room. Then, when she saw me and smiled, I realized her vision was so blurred that she actually thought I was her grandson. And knowing how desperate she was to see him, I decided to play the part and spend an hour with her.”
We Determine the True Value of Every Hour
Our lives are measured by the value we provide to others. This value arises from the things we spend our time doing. And since time is quantified in hours, the value of our lives is equivalent to the sum of every hour we spend.
Opportunities to provide value are everywhere. Some of them are anticipated, while others blindside us at midnight on an idle Tuesday. Whether or not we choose to acknowledge and engage in these opportunities is up to us.
How have you spent the last hour of your life?
Let this question sink in. Let it inspire you…
Let yourself come to see just how precious a gift it is to find value in the loving gestures you display, the genuine conversations you have, the meaningful collaborations you engage in, and the deeds you do that bring peace.
If you need a little extra inspiration in the upcoming hour, here are a few timeless strategies Angel and I personally practice, and often cover with our new course students:
- Build a bridge or two. – Some people build lots of walls in their lives and not enough bridges. Don’t be one of them. When you look at a person, any person, remember that everyone has a story. Everyone has gone through something that has changed them and forced them to grow. Every passing face on the street represents a story every bit as compelling and complicated as your own. We meet no ordinary people in our lives. If you give them a chance, everyone has something amazing to offer. Open yourself up. Take small chances on people. Let them shift your perspective.
- Be present and listen closely. – If you think about the people who have had the greatest positive effect on your life—the ones who truly made a difference—you will likely realize that they aren’t the ones that tried to give you all the answers or solve all your problems. They’re the ones who sat silently with you when you needed a moment to think, who lent you a shoulder when you needed to cry, and who tolerated not having all the answers, but stood beside you anyway. Be this person for others.
- Be calm inside, even when those around you are angry. – People are much nicer when they’re happier, which says a lot about those who aren’t very nice. Keep this in mind. And also remind yourself that you can’t control how other people receive your energy. Anything you do or say gets filtered through the lens of whatever they are going through at the moment, which has nothing to do with you. Don’t take things personally. Calmness is a superpower. Just keep doing your thing with as much love and integrity as possible.
- Love exactly what’s in front of you. – Love what you do, until you can do what you love. Love where you are, until you can be where you love. And above all, love the people you are with, until you can be with the people you love most. Fewer judgments, less resistance, more love… in this hour, and the next. That’s the way we find happiness, opportunity and peace in even the most mundane situations.
- Be way, way kinder than necessary. – Think kindly of others, speak kindly to others, and do kind things for others. Kindness always makes a difference. Create the little outcomes others might be grateful for at the end of their day. Be a bigger part of what’s right in this world. And remember, the way we treat people we strongly disagree with is a report card on what we’ve learned about true love and real kindness. (We discuss this in more detail in the “Relationships” chapter of our book.)
This Hour—Let’s Practice, Together
One hour at a time, one value-driven decision at a time. That’s all we’re really talking about here. Just maximizing the significance of our short lives, and making a small difference along the way.
Of course, doing so is often easier said than done. Distractions and counter-rationalities are everywhere. “Reasons” to do the opposite of the five aforementioned points are abundant when we’re looking for them. Filling an hour with the same old routines and responses, for example, always seems more comfortable in the near-term.
But, the truth always rears its head in the end. And the truth is, twenty years from now it won’t really matter how comfortable our lives were today, how easy we had it, or what we were “working on” when we were really just holding out on people. Being perfectly in line and on time every second won’t matter either. What will matter is how we lived, how we loved, and what we learned along the way.
It’s our time, right now…
To fill an hour with true value.
To instill as much love, kindness and compassion into it as possible.
And to do what we know in our heads and hearts is right, every step of the way.
Let’s practice, together, for all the right reasons. 🙂
Afterthoughts… On Finding Value Around Offensive People
Some of the strategies above (like numbers 3 and 5 for example) potentially require a willingness to amicably deal with people who yell at us, interrupt us, talk about remarkably distasteful things, and so forth. These people violate the way we think people should behave, and sometimes their behavior deeply offends us. But if we let these people get to us—if we let them incapacitate our minds with negativity—we lose our ability to see and provide value.
So, what can we do if we have someone like this in our lives right now?
We can challenge ourselves to mentally hug them and wish them well in the hour ahead, no matter what.
This isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution, but it’s a little trick that can positively change the way we see most people who offend us. Let’s say someone has just said something unpleasant to us. How dare they! Who do they think they are? They have no consideration for our feelings! But of course, with a heated reaction like this, we’re not having any consideration for their feelings either—they may be suffering inside in unimaginable ways. By remembering this, we can try to show them empathy, and realize that their behavior is likely driven by some kind of inner pain. They are being unpleasant as a coping mechanism for their pain.
And so, mentally, we can give them a hug. We can have compassion for this broken person, because we all have been broken and in pain at some point in our lives. We’re the same in many ways. Sometimes we need a hug, some extra compassion, and a little unexpected love.
Try this. See the immediate value in your gentle response. And then smile in serenity, armed with the reassuring knowledge that you did your best, and you didn’t let someone else’s behavior turn you into someone you aren’t.
(Note: Angel and I build “smarter communication” strategies and habits with our students in the “Love and Relationships” module of the Getting Back to Happy course.)
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