Every so often a song or a slogan or a book captures the attention of the masses with the simplicity or relevance or poignancy of its message. Eighteen years ago Robert Fulghum encapsulated his life message in a best seller called “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.” The content may be even more relevant today than it was in 1986. Rules like “don’t hit people,” “clean up your own mess,” “take a nap every afternoon” and ‘when you go out into the world, watch out for traffic, hold hands, and stick together” are some of Fulghum’s everyday truths.
Don’t worry, be happy! Don’t sweat the small stuff. These catch phrases are now part of our cultural fabric and cross generational lines of understanding.
Country and western star Tim McGraw’s hit song “Live like You Were Dying” is this year’s contribution to the mix. The song describes how a man chose to deal with a death sentence diagnosis in the prime of his life. He chose to do some risky machismo-type activities like sky-diving, rocky mountain climbing and bull riding. No big surprise there. Don’t we all harbor a “before I die I want to:.” list somewhere in our hearts?
More surprising was the revelation that he “loved deeper, spoke sweeter, and gave forgiveness he’d been denyin’.” Who among us couldn’t do better in those departments?
He hoped his friend would “get the chance to live like he was dyin’.” As unbelievable as that concept may sound, apparently it is indeed true for many people who are dying. At last they feel clarity and insight as the important things in life become crystal clear and everything else falls away. The rest of us tend to get bogged down with the minutia of life: earning a living and paying the bills. Or we get crazy pursuing material and experiential stuff to the exclusion of rest, relationships, rationality.
Verse two touches on relationships. “I was finally the husband, that most of the time I wasn’t … I became a friend, a friend would like to have.” Suddenly going fishing wasn’t an imposition. He finally “read the good book” and “took a good long hard look at what I’d do if I could do it all again.”
In the most tender way, this song reminds us that by changing course now we can improve our quality of life–however long it may be–and prevent deathbed regrets. The song urges us to love more deeply and to give the gift of forgiveness. To be the spouse or friend we would hope to have. (Sounds suspiciously like the golden rule.) It will be our relationships that in the end bring us either, joy and serenity or tears of regret. Live like you were dyin’ is the only way to go, from where I sit.
*Reprinted with permission