“The unexamined life is not worth living.” This is perhaps the most famous statement Socrates ever made. One day many years ago, as I was teaching this section of Plato’s dialogues, it occurred to me in a flash that the opposite was also true: The unlived life is not worth examining. I went on to share this thought with my students: so many people spend their time on earth worrying about life after death and adjusting their beliefs and behaviors to accommodate this worry. But the far more important and relevant question, it seems to me, is “is there life before death?”
For our morning reading this month, Carolyn and I are enjoying a lovely book by Dawna Markova entitled “I will not die an unlived life.” This woman expresses her hard won wisdom with a beauty that flows deeply into the soul. She shares an inspiring vision of living an undivided life with love and passion and grace.
In our reading this morning, Dawna told a story I found fascinating. She and her husband had been invited to India to visit with the Dalai Lama. Upon arriving, she was told to ignore the beggars and this she did, closing her heart as she made her way to Dharamsala. As she entered her guest house, she realized her body had become tight and protected and her heart felt small. She was then told that the Dalai Lama was ill and could not see her, and that she would have to settle with an audience with a Rinpoche. Disappointed and depressed, she walked out into a grey world, and immediately met a small beggar girl who had clearly suffered from leprosy. Dawna’s heart melted as she scooped the girl into her arms and sang to her a song of love. Dawna continues:
“This little brown child, whose name I will never know, broke my heart so wide open that it could have contained the whole world. From her I learned that passion is a river. … It creates the desire to reach, to pass on to the world what you love. And through that opening, the world passes into you.” That little girl became one of Dawna’s inner advisors: “and each reminds me that even in the moments when I feel the most helpless to ’do’ or fix or help, I can still, always, love in simple and ultimate ways. I can let in, let be, or be with, opening and experiencing what life brings to me.”
Her words alone shine a light on what it means to live life. A further thought occurs to me, however. Dawna had traveled halfway around the world to meet with a justly famous spiritual teacher who became unavailable. Then on a dusty road she met a small brown angel who became one of her greatest teachers. We never know where, or in what form, grace is waiting for us. I want to remember to pay attention, and to trust that every door that closes is moving me toward another unexpected blessing-in-disguise.