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A Good Life

I have been lucky in my life, in having known a number of people in my early years who, when things were difficult for me in my twenties, provided role models for the life I live now. They were all people who had coped with various difficulties in their own lives and went on to live full lives themselves. One of them, the last one living, was my godmother who died last week.

I saw little of her in my life, as she worked overseas and then latterly nursed her husband for ten years after a massive stroke. In this, she gave fully of herself and exhausted herself. Nursing was a way of life; it was how she met my mother, and came to be my godmother.

I have been thinking of her a lot, aware of how memories hold a person together, who lives on in the memory, and in this continues to give, even in their absence. She was remarkable to me, for who she was, for the colour she brought into an Edinburgh life that in the late 60s and early 70s seemed very grey. With her tales of Borneo head-hunters, who were more Christian than Christians, and her sense of fun, joy and interest, she created a world of possibilities by her presence. I know I am not alone in experiencing this of her. By being herself, Betty gave to everybody and none more so than her husband who she would sit with for hours in his confinement. In this, she was remarkable, and yet not alone. There are countless people caring for those they love now; it is part of how the world turns.

They often receive little thought or thanks. Yet thanks is a root of thinking, and thinking as thanking is a powerful way to be present to those that are in our lives, and allows us to see them in ways that allow us to get on. Too often, thinking as thanking occurs after someone has died, rather than when they are living, when it allows us to be present to them, appreciate them and allow us to play a role with them. In our closest, deepest and most intimate relationship it allows us to love.

Love has many forms, but without appreciation, it withers; we cannot get to know each other; we are destined to be alone, without the bridge that occurs when we think and thank the other for being there.

So I am very present now to Betty, thanking her for being there in my life. In a year when my father has also died, I am thinking a lot about death and therefore the meaning of life. I find myself thinking that in life it is the small things that help humanity onwards that mark a good life. It is how we are remembered that allows us to survive what is inevitable, and within that, our gifts to others by being present to them and being ourselves are important. This at least is part of my version of a good life, something we all have to work out for ourselves. Some of the answers are remarkably consistent across time and cultures - love, compassion, caring, being there for others, being ourselves, just being, are all things to treasure and where we all can find meaning and a good life for ourselves.