Randy Pausch, a young professor at Carnegie Mellon University, had the same cancer as I do. He wrote a book about his adventure — The Last Lecture. It was on the New York Times Best seller list for months. The book was all about thankfulness and how to cope. He noted that the actual transition was a joyful thing designed to build bridges to the next generation. “I’m having fun,” he said, “and I’m dying.” At age 47 he left a lovely wife and three young children. My 2009 Twice-Weekly letter about Randy Pausch is here.
I’m also saying thanks to the sunny hilltops and the marshy fens. To the wide rivers and the high mountain paths. To the patient and forbearing companions who hiked along with me. Funnily, I don’t seem to be angry, at least not yet. Funnily too, things run on quite nicely and evenly around here as long as I’m busy. There’s a lot of comings and goings — we have loose ends to sew up.
While distributing a few classic cars and other idiosyncratic collections to willing, soft-headed ones like myself, my job is simplified by an unbelievably supportive family. I’m thinking, if the end was to come sooner rather than later, we’ll still be ready.
In the meantime the white-crowned sparrows and towhees are showing up at my studio feeder. Above the estuary, eagles soar and great blue herons return to roost in the cedars at nightfall. Last night, as I was shutting down, a family of raccoons slipped silently by on their way from one local diner to another.
This morning, an unfinished painting grins down at me from the easel. In many ways this is like any other day. Except there’s a new element:
It’s a profound thankfulness for a lovely life. As friends keep pointing out, I’ve never had a real job and yet I seem to work harder than many of my friends. In art, our jobs are never done. “In order to be happy,” said Winston Churchill, “you need to find a task that requires perfection, is impossible to achieve, and spend the rest of your life trying to achieve it.”
That’s something I’ve always believed, and I’m thankful.
PS: “In ordinary life we hardly realize that we receive a great deal more than we give, and that it is only with gratitude that life becomes rich.” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer)
Esoterica: If there was one thing that nags me, it’s that I might have done better work. One by one, particularly in the last decade, I’ve never been quite satisfied. Perhaps it has something to do with knowing too much. Perhaps it is only in youth that we hold the keys. Once, when I was about Randy’s age, I did something I thought was just about perfect. But now I think I was wrong even then. Such is the nature of our path. I may not always have climbed to the top, but I’m so thankful to have been on the mountain.
Gratitude for life
by Patricia Smith, White Rock, BC, Canada
As I rub the sleep from my eyes, I am prompted to say just a wee bit of what is in my heart. That is where the gratitude for the beauty of truly living is and needs to be opened up to share with other living beings and creatures. The bounty of this glorious life is usually overshadowed by our unawareness. You have opened yourself to reveal the person you are inside and maybe this is the way we can all recognize we are one and the same. There truly is nothing different about any of us deep inside ~ only on the surface. The gratitude for life and all living things that you convey through your words expresses my heart exactly!
The connection to this glorious bounty of life that we see and touch in the trees and the breeze, the faces and graces of each creature that walks through our lives and hearts is what sustains us.
by Brian Monteith, Vernon, BC, Canada
Thank you for being such a great inspiration. Your artwork and words speak to the great aesthetic experience that life can and should be. Thank you for sharing your vision with us all, for providing such a beautiful lens on the world through your paintings and such caring and wisdom in your letters. The last time I wrote you I shared a remarkable TED talk, ten minute video with you. The message in that video reminds us to be grateful for the gifts that come to us each day, each moment, and your “Thanks” letter this evening has reinforced this message. For me, the art of living and the art of dying are one and the same. Six years ago my best friend was diagnosed with ALS. He never stopped noticing and appreciating the beautiful moments and when he left this world, it was while watching his favourite birds – a pair of evening grosbeaks at the feeder outside his window. He was one of the great souls of the world, and you are, too. I join with the thousands of your supporters who wish you a return to full health.
Winning and losing
by Richard Woods, Sparks, NV, USA
As an arts magazine editor I frequently referenced (with your permission!) some of the ones that were particularly relevant to a local event or issue. I did what I could to spread your wealth around. Thank you. On a personal level, cancer has had its spoon in my world too. My wife is just finishing radiation for breast cancer, this after losing her baby sister a year ago to a brain tumor. Off the top of my head I can think of almost a dozen of our near and dear winning or losing the battle with the big C. Your words give me hope. Thank you again.
Belief in miracles
by Mona Youssef, Ottawa, ON, Canada
It is all about attitude and acceptance for what life brings us and how we face it. Even healthy people do not know what tomorrow will bring them. So best way is to enjoy every moment of each day and make the best out of it. If we worry about tomorrow, it will kill us now. So let us learn from the past and be proud of what we have done to the best of our abilities, enjoy today and show appreciation to our kind supporters. We came with nothing to the world and our parents put on some cloths to cover us and we leave with nothing but our achievement in life. We will leave the kind of reputation we built whether a treasure to be remembered or otherwise. Robert, what you have done greatly for yourself, family, friends and many others has been a treasure. This treasure will always remain as light in the winter dark days. I do believe in miracles and the ability of our body to reverse itself and you can be cancer free.
‘Letters from Canada’
by Robert Erskine, Harrow, Middlesex, UK
Difficult as it is to fully appreciate how you feel, I wanted to let you know how much I have enjoyed and will continue to enjoy your Letters From Canada, like Alistair Cook’s Letters From America on the other side of the pond. Whilst not every single comment has been agreeable, your dialogues and passion have an honest vibrant resonance I really look forward to, and that is the key. No resonance, no communication that is art that is life, too. Art/sculpture and the mechanical are all related.
by Lorna Dockstader, Calgary, AB, Canada
After reading this morning’s letter, I came across an interesting quote, “A sense of humor… is needed armor. Joy in one’s heart and some laughter on one’s lips is a sign that the person down deep has a pretty good grasp of life.” (Hugh Sidey)
Am so grateful for your wry sense of humour that is interwoven in so many of your letters. Humour has the ability to bring us through some of the most difficult times in our lives.
I have witnessed someone in much pain, who still had the amazing ability to bring joy to another. And strangely as it seems, I felt grateful to have been there. We relived our funny moments together, and afterwards I realized that it was just the release we needed.
“Laughter is not at all a bad beginning for a friendship, and it is far the best ending for one.” (Oscar Wilde)
We are listening
by Marie Martin, Fountain Valley, CA, USA
The urge is to keep filling the air with words of profound gratitude for all that you’ve given. But I’ll hold off on those heartfelt exhortations for a bit, close my mouth and quietly listen to what you do best … teach. Wouldn’t it be something if, in the end, your twice-weekly letters were not intended to be the main event, but rather has been a vehicle to gather a large body of students who’ve been primed to look to you for guidance, so that you may show us ways to pass through this life with dignity, clarity and intentionality. Today’s letter, filled with glimpses of your new reality, is so valuable. While I don’t feel old at all, at 65 one cannot help realize that this life truly cannot go on forever. It is my wish to travel the final third phase with courage–and with eyes wide open — and learn what I can about moving gracefully toward “the end” without wasting precious moments. That wish cannot be fulfilled simply by wishing — one needs information to create a roadmap. One needs to be practicing the dance steps. So please keep sharing your observations. Take us by the hand and show us. Teach us as you have always done. We are an audience with ears accustomed to your gentle voice. We are, as always, listening.
There are 2 comments for We are listening by Marie Martin
by Camilla Schwarz, Annapolis, MD, USA
I have been receiving and reading your letters for some time now. They never fail to delight and amaze. You have an uncanny ability to describe with clarity some of the thoughts and an ineffable suspicion I have about life and art that swim just beneath the surface of my mind. You make me feel part of a bigger world, you remind me that “alone” is an illusion — we are all connected in the same way that you so eloquently and seemingly effortlessly connect art, philosophy, medicine and life. When I read your letters, I feel like I know you. You’ve been so very generous in sharing your insights and epiphanies. You’ve remained curious and kind and you have passed that legacy on to all who have read your words. I am happy for you — you get to observe and choose how to spend the rest of your life — as if we haven’t been doing that since birth, but, you know what I mean. You are headed out to the biggest adventure of all, there are surprises around every corner.
I am grateful to you for your effort and generosity. I wish that I had met you but I feel that I know you. Thank you.
Living with intention
by Anita Edwards, Vancouver, BC, Canada
As all your friends, pupils and those who briefly pass through your life, I was so sorry to hear of your illness. Through Barb Newton I met you many years ago and again at Hollyhock and had the chance to appreciate your incredible talent and sense of humour. When we met, you passed on to me something I wrote down and framed and have had placed in a special place in all my studios. It reads:
Live with intention
Walk to the edge
Play with abandon
Choose with no regret
Continue to learn
Appreciate your friends
Live as if this is all there is
Do what you love
Decide to live
by Summer Rain, Asheville, NC, USA
The fastest way to die is to believe you are going to die… instead I encourage you to believe you are going to live… we are all going to live as long as we live. Please stop putting so much focus on dying. Live today, forget about dying, it will come when it comes, and you may be very surprised just how long that might be. Animals are lucky since they have no sense of dying; my Golden Retriever was given 3 months at the most to live with her cancer; I put her on a very good organic homemade diet, made special effort to play with her “a lot,” and she lived another 2 1/2 years, dying at the age of 10. I was also given 3 months to live and here I am 26 years later. Doctors, even the best, do not always have the answer as to when or even if we will in fact die… so sure, “clean up your studio,” probably needs it anyway, chuckles, then LIVE!
There are 3 comments for Decide to live by Summer Rain
The big career move
by Don Steele, Vancouver, BC, Canada
Bob, I know you are committed to your art and the business of your art… but markets come down and markets go up as regularly as toilet seats, so this is entirely too extreme a ploy! Prices will recover, so knock it off or I will personally report you to the authorities for market manipulation! If none of your buddies have laid this on you I would be very surprised.
Enjoy the past comments below for Thanks
Featured Workshop: Robert Masla
Clouds and shadows
oil on canvas, 6 x 6 inches
You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013.
That includes Mary Burkhardt of Ridgefield, CT, USA, who wrote, “Life is never long enough. It wouldn’t matter if you lived to be 125, it would still be too short. They say that we regret what we didn’t do more than what we did do in life. You’ve done an awful lot. You’ve shared and been generous with both your knowledge and your time. Thank you.”
And also Yvonne Moyerof Miami, FL, USA, who wrote, “You have contributed so much richness to so many by your beautiful letters and art work. Giving opens the door to abundance and you have certainly done this. You are one of the richest people in what I think is important.”
And also Luc Poitras of Montreal, QC, Canada, who wrote, “As to making it perfect, we must always remember that happiness is a moving target. We hit one target, we aim for the next; such is the quest for perfection. It’s in the quest, in the striving, that happiness lives and welcomes us. Life should be lived ‘Pedal-to-the-metal.’ Take your meds, take the carrot juice, and keep that foot on the pedal.”
And also Ken Campbell of Victoria, BC, Canada, who wrote, “I have watched as you shaped your painter’s voice and ‘songs’ over the years in the presence of the Canadian Masters. I have always enjoyed and learned from your wonderful and unique examples. And I think I have become a better art thinker and teacher through your example… a modern Canadian master.”
And also Robert Dobie of Vancouver, BC, Canada, who wrote, “I was taught a very good lesson by my Grandfather over 30 years ago about positive thinking in regard to medical disorders. He bought my medical problem at the time for a nickel and said he now owned it. My condition disappeared within 10 days of the 5 cent purchase and I have never been sick since.”