“When someone you love walks through the door, even if it happens five times a day, you should go totally insane with joy.”
Denali isn’t famous enough to need a last name. He has no formal education. Not even a high school diploma. What he does have is a keen, super-human sense of what love and friendship means. What it requires. How to value it. How it calls us to pay attention. To celebrate and be grateful.
Because we simply never know. Human beings have no rights or claims on the ever-so brief moments they are given to be together.
Denali doesn’t understand why people complain about the fact that salads cost $12 or why their shoes got wet. Denali has love in keen relief, proper perspective. He talks of loving his friend, Ben, through cancer.
In journeys like that, you don’t notice your shoes. And maybe you forget to eat lunch entirely, at any price.
I’ve never met Denali in real time. I heard him quote the above words in an eight-minute short film called “Denali.” You can watch it on Vimeo.com. (https://vimeo.com/122375452)
Films like “Denali” remind me how simple is the measure of my own life:
When I notice myself in narratives of chronic complaint, I’m a loser. It’s that simple. Then, when I get the idea that others should be obliged to grant an audience for my complaining, I’m a loser and a boor. The tortured trifecta is when I take the point of privilege to feel slighted, to mobilize resentment if others are unavailable for my complaining. Loser, boor and Crown Prince of Entitlement.
When, instead, I work the discipline of gratitude, I’m a man of peace and humility. My soul is in a posture to receive rather than grasp or take. I revel in an inventory of unspeakable grace and gifts, not an inventory of ownership, achievement and deservedness.
Ownership? Every day I grow older, the whole idea of ownership seems more a waste of time. For what is truly my own save the moments I dared to love and be loved? Answer: nothing.
“We are in bondage to decay.” — Romans 8:20-21
Only love survives.
Nobody lies in hospice and makes an inventory of ownership. Nope. Dying requires us to take inventory of love.
“Love is paying attention.” — M. Scott Peck (1936-2005)
A friend tells me about a family tradition, started by her father, now gone to be with God. Home from work each night, he would pull his car up to the house and tap a friendly “beep beep” on the horn. He would announce his arrival, and a wife and children would rise and mingle toward the door to greet him.
Today, my friend continues the tradition. Her family knows to expect the “beep beep” as she pulls her car around to home.
Thus do healthy families and healthy marriages make customs and rituals out of comings and goings, hellos and goodbyes.
They see each other. They behold each other. They respect each other. (Look it up. In Latin, respectus means “to see again.”)
I remember, as I do at least annually in this column, the Thorton Wilder play “Our Town.” At the end, the protagonist pleads to her mother, “Mother! Won’t you just look at me!”
Then she says to the stage manager: “Does anyone really live life while they live it?”
“Oh, a few,” says the stage manager, puffing his pipe. “Poets and saints, maybe. Nobody else.”
By the way, if you decide to click that link and watch “Denali,” bring a box of tissues. It’s going to wreck you. Wring you out like a dishrag. Pour your heart into your shoes. If you can watch this piece and not be moved, something is wrong with you. You’re embalmed. Sleepwalking. Frozen in ice.
Watch it. Ponder what really matters.
Then put this column down. Go call someone you love, and tell them so. Just because.
Steven Kalas is a behavioral health consultant and counselor at Las Vegas Psychiatry and the author of “Human Matters: Wise and Witty Counsel on Relationships, Parenting, Grief and Doing the Right Thing” (Stephens Press). His columns appear on Mondays. Contact him at 702-227-4165 or firstname.lastname@example.org.