Tell Someone that They Matter…

One of my all-time favourite singer-songwriters was John Denver. His mix of environmental awareness, social action and spirituality inspired me and still speak to my soul. John died in the late 1990s, from the crash of an ultra-light aircraft he was piloting; though some, I’ve recently heard, think he may have committed suicide. Whatever the reason, he’s no longer here with us. And I miss his presence and his music.

Last night, I had the strangest dream. In it, I dreamt that JD (as he was sometimes called) was speaking to me through someone. His message was that he was disappointed not to have been able to make a ‘bigger difference’ on the planet. And he wasn’t sure that his life, his work and his music had really mattered…

I was dumbfounded. From the moment I first heard him on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson in 1973, his music moved me. Passionate about the environment myself, I often found myself singing Rocky Mountain High, Sunshine on My Shoulders or the Eagle and the Hawk as I walked in nature. It felt like he was singing to my heart, and his words and music filled me up. His marital struggles seemed to reflect my own, so the music he wrote about those helped me cope. And when his life took a more spirituality bent, mine had also.

Beliefs in Action
John was deeply involved in putting his beliefs into action as well. His pioneering Windstar Foundation, which brought some of the world’s leading thinkers and activists together to explore and create change. His involvement in The Hunger Project, a global initiative that was one of the early ones to envision the possibility of a world without hunger and act on it. His work on the President’s Commission for Hunger. Raising awareness about the oceans, the Alaska wildnerness and the need for more national parks. And his multi-city environmental event called Higher Ground, in which he educated people about the power of personal action. I attended one of these in Toronto, where I met him, wrote up some ‘local eco-tips’ and presented him with a Blue Box recycling container which he talked about on stage.

John Denver’s life, work and music made a huge difference in my life – and, I believe, in the lives of millions of people around the globe. His spirit, joy and passion inspired me. His tears and pain touched me. And his journey, which he shared openly, helped me know that I was not alone.

No, he may not have been able to create all of the environmental and social change he dreamed of accomplishing. But his life mattered to mine. And for that, I will always be better off and truly grateful.

And What About Us?
There’s a tendency that I’ve noticed among those who dream of larger possibilities in life – whether it’s making a difference, creating a healthier, more sustainable life, a better world, or whatever the vision: We wait until our dreams are accomplished to be happy. It’s as though only by achieving our vision do we give ourselves permission to feel okay or enough.

Yet many of us have such large visions of what we want to accomplish – making our millions, healing the sick, saving the environment or turning around society’s woes – that our expectations almost always exceed our grasp. But we can often be un-accepting of who and where we are now. And that is a mistake. Because in so doing, we hurt ourselves and do a disservice to others.

Part of accomplishing what we want in life, I’m coming to realize, is accepting ourselves as we are. Being happy with myself, even if I haven’t done or achieved all that I “could or should.” It also includes accepting my imperfections just as much as the ‘more perfect world’ I aspire to. Such self acceptance is as much a healing force as any action I can take. In fact, it strengthens all of my actions, because it springs from self-love instead of criticism. Fullness instead of lack. And forgiveness instead of judgment.

Does Your Life Touch Another?
Whether the message I got from John Denver, last night in my dream, was true about him or a total fabrication of my own mind really doesn’t matter. The message to me was clear.

Having a wonderful life, as moviemaker Frank Capra once portrayed, isn’t just about the grand things we dream of or want to accomplish. It’s about how we’ve touched the lives of the people around us. How much we cared. How much they were touched by us. And whether we allowed ourselves to be loved by them.

What it seems to me is, if we live our lives honestly, sincerely, with simple love and caring for those around us, then our life automatically does touch others – almost without our realizing it. And then our life really does matter much more than we know.

If you want to test it out, tell someone today that their life matters to you. They may not have realized it. They may think they haven’t done enough or be anyone special. They may not be able to see the forest for the trees. So they need someone just like you to remind them.

And as you do, remember it – about yourself.

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