Books, death and powerful conversations

First grade teachers are changing the world. They are the ones who are encouraging kids (and we grownups, too) to read every day. For at least 20 minutes. I couldn’t agree more. And not just because I have a sister who was a first grade teacher and a school principal.  (Thanks, Liz!)

Reading doesn’t just make you a better reader; it changes lives. Yes, there is the learning component. But reading is also a practice that puts you smack dab on the path to enjoying better conversations, making stronger connections, and being a better, more enlightened, well-rounded person.

So are you reading every day? Preferably something that broadens your world view, brings you up to date, challenges you, makes you think, or gives you a new perspective. (Yes, novels – good ones − can do this. So if that’s what you like, you’re covered!)

The book I just finished is a pretty heavy one: The Untethered Soul by Michael Singer. What an amazing read! When three of my most brilliant and successful friends suggested I get myself a copy I followed their advice.  The Untethered Soul is not a thick book, but it is a powerful one. And, like other powerful books (say, anything by Eckhart Tolle), it has taken me nearly a month to read it.  This is primarily because I would read a few pages while sipping my morning coffee, my head would blow up, and I’d have to put it down to ponder and process (or reread) what I’d just read.

Ever had that experience?  If so, good! You are on the right path.

In Chapter 17, the one on Contemplating Death (I know – it sounds terribly morose, but stay with me here), there is a beautiful paragraph about enjoying conversations with others (and not just some others, but everyone) as if they were the very last exchanges you’d ever have with another human being on earth before you died.

Here’s that passage:

What if you knew that the last person you’d see would be the last person you would ever see? You’d be right there soaking it in, experiencing it. It wouldn’t matter what they were saying; you’d just enjoy hearing the words because it would be the last conversation you’d ever have. What if you brought that kind of awareness to every conversation?…The true seeker commits to live like that every moment…

Time and life are precious. Like it or not, we are all going to die someday regardless of who we are,  how much money or education we have, where we live, or how we’ve spent (or squandered) our time,   We just don’t know when Our Time will be. There is no negotiating how fast the clock ticks or when the spooky guy in the black hooded robe will point his bony finger at us. So why not live and experience life – and other people – in ways that are commensurate with this level of uncertainty and preciousness?

In a TEDx talk I did last year, I told the story of the last conversation I had with my grandfather. He knew it would likely be our last visit.  I will never forget what he said to me in those moments.  He knew he was facing the end of his time on earth. A few months later he was gone.  (Go to the 8:13 mark in the video if you don’t have 11:22 minutes to view my TEDx talk in its entirety.)

Knowing this, take the time – today – to enjoy the exchanges you have with others. How can you brighten someone’s mood with even the minimum: your full attention?  Do this, not just with the people you love, but with everyone, including the people who handle your dry cleaning or take your lunch order. Share a friendly greeting. Add in a few words that may give the other person a reason to laugh or to consider a new outlook. See how this changes your attitude, the energy you bring to the world, and the relationships around you.  If it seems appropriate, ask them what they are reading – and share with them what you’re reading. See what happens.

As always, I’d love to hear what you think about this and how this works for you.

2 Responses to Books, death and powerful conversations
  1. Michael Mercieca
    August 23, 2016 | 11:38 am

    Great post Patti.

    It conjures memories of three special interactions I had:

    1. With President George Bush Senior. I was lucky enough to meet him at a luncheon, and asked him for parenting advice as I was a new father. He credited the advice to Barbara, and told me to read to my son at every opportunity. I have never forgotten that advice. Sage and true!

    2. My late judo Coach, Don Werner. On his hospital bed a week before his passing, and the last time we saw and spoke together. He was amazing. I hope I never forget the time and the words we spoke. I remember, because of the enormity of the occasion, I read him a letter to ensure I covered everything I wanted to say.Of course, I still didn’t.Every word, sound, facial expression, touch, feeling, was amplified due to the circumstances.

    3. A special conversation I recall with a very special person at an Austin bookstore…it ended up lasting about 12 hours and was very emotional with laughter, tears, hugs and deep, deep, connection. And the circumstances bestowed on us “forced” very present conversations. On reflection, invoke very special feelings.

    All very special, and your post reminds me to breath and be as present as possible. Not my forte :-). It also reminds me of a great quote from Uma Thurman in Pulp Fiction. “In conversation, do you listen or are you just waiting to talk?” Wow!

    John Travolta’s response…”I must admit, I’m waiting to talk, but I am trying to do better at that”

    I am sure, read, “I know”, I fall into that category too, and resolve to do better.

    Thanks again for a great read and trip down amnesia lane. A great reminder 🙂

  2. Sonia Kulesza
    August 24, 2016 | 9:28 am


    You are one of the smartest people I know! I completely enjoy reading everything you write and ALWAYS get some sort of take-away!!!

    While I try to be present in every conversation, I thank you for the reminder because its not always easy!

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