This week I walked over to one of my many bookcases to find something to read. More and more I have found myself sucked into the endless scrolling on my phone or tablet and I wanted to spend some quality time — at bedtime at least — letting my brain connect to simple black letters on warm white paper.
As I stared at the spines, some aged since I was a teenager others new and seemingly untouched, my eye caught one that reminded me of a simple green field on a summer day. It said, “This I Believe” and I vaguely remembered buying it on a whim with a Christmas gift card. At the time I skimmed it and then ticked it away; it was pleasant and distracting, but not the kind of read that had me pushing past bedtime, giving up hours of sleep to find out what happened next.
Just what I needed, I thought. I grabbed it and carried it upstairs.
Starting at the beginning I found myself reading the short essays of people (some famous, some not) sharing their most deeply held beliefs. Leonard Bernstein believes in people. Eva Ensler in the power of naming things. John McCain in honor, faith, and service. Colleen Shaddox that jazz is the sound of God laughing. Jackie Robinson that human beings are imperfect but that if we are free we can get better. So, so many essays, some from the original 1950’s series launch by Edward R. Murrow, and some from the early 2000’s when my kids were little.
Some of them touched my heartstrings. Some made me think. Some were from people I already admired, some were from people I hadn’t given much thought to. All of them inherently asked me the same question: What do you believe? If someone sent you a text right now and asked you to write an essay, what would you say? And so last night I went to bed planning for that moment (one that would never, ever happen) and this morning I woke up and realized that I don’t have to wait to be asked — I could write it anyway. I will write it anyway. Here. Now.
The Value of Relationships
I believe that the only thing that has true and lasting worth in this life is the relationships you build. I have achieved some professional success and financial comfort but I would consider it all cheaply bought if it came at the expense of the love, respect, and trust of the people in my life.
Granted, I say this as someone who has never truly known want, who has lived in financial security my entire life. Perhaps if I had ever had to wonder where my next meal was coming from, I would now connect my net worth with my worthiness. Perhaps if I had spent years laboring in work that was undervalued and demeaned I would equate my current vocation with my value. Some people do.
And, I believe that the best way to build a relationship with someone is to create a moment of joy and possibility. A worthy life is spent crafting those moments together into a patchwork quilt, the kind of an heirloom that is well-used through a life and can be passed down for generations. Some relationships are critical and create a large and intricate square, worked throughout your life. Others are smaller, filling in the gaps and reinforcing the weak spots and adding color and accent to the covering. No matter how it comes together, a life full of strong relationships provides warmth and shelter throughout hard times and can be tucked around elderly legs to keep warm at the end of a life well-lived.
Personally, I have watched this play out in my own life and those I love. Money didn’t keep someone from dying alone in hospice. Position didn’t save someone from the backlash of work politics. Instead it was relationships built over days, weeks, months and years that brought change — that made it worth it to take action.
Failing to nurture those relationships creates holes in the fabric or gaps in the pattern. Worse yet, betrayal yanks the squares outright, ripping the threads that hold the quilt together. Destroy more relationships than you build and you end up with a thin blanket filled with holes, alone and cold in moments of need.
With that in mind I seek to bring more joy than pain to those who matter to me. I focus on their strengths and not their weaknesses. I offer help not judgement. I try to understand my impact and not hide behind my intent. And when those attempts fail, and they do fail, I pull out my needle and thread and do my best to repair the damage. I don’t always succeed.
I believe that at the end of my days my worth to the world will be judged not by my bank account or my career exploits, but by the warmth of my quilt. I hope between now and then the colorful squares reflect all the diverse, authentic, and connected relationships that make my life worth living.
Pictured: Quilt is Crazy Quilt 4 by Modern Art. Available for purchase at Fine Art America. I only quilt metaphorically.