A dear friend passed away the other day, and I’m remembering him today with a soft, pensive joy.
I didn’t actually know him all that well, but in a certain sense we were close friends… because Charlie was the sort of guy who made everyone around him feel valued and valuable, loved and loving. He was a faculty member at the school where I did my PhD. We always said we’d work on something together but somehow we never did. I knew his name before I started my PhD program; he was one of the “founding fathers” of the discipline of organization development. I was speechless with awe the first time I met him ten years ago.
As I got to know him, my awe decreased while my admiration and love for him grew. How could you not love a ceaselessly smiling elderly man in a red shirt, suspenders, and a baseball cap? His humility, his perception, his empathy, his goofy sense of humor, and his obvious relish for life were all endearing and contagious. He sang and laughed with gusto. In conversation, he looked straight at you with absolute attention. He was completely, utterly present in everything that he did. He led workshops on “the use of self” in consulting, but his life practice was to simply be himself, and in so doing to make space for others to discover, become, and be themselves.
When I first described myself as a slow happy runner, it was almost as an incantation to myself. I didn’t have all that much to be happy about. Yet I was committed to running and to the idea that “slow mileage is better than no mileage,” and I knew from bitter experience that in the worst of times my running had the power to carry me through the pain.
When I met CFL the idea of slow happy living inspired both of us as a vision of a way of life. We’d both hit unanticipated bumps in our lives, and we’d both been jolted into an awareness that life is short and moments are not to be wasted.
CFL can be literally slow — when the calypso orchids are in bloom he can take an hour and a half to walk just one mile of trail. He… counts… every… flower… and comes back the next day to count… every… flower… again. He is very happy in the moments that he spends with those flowers.
I’m not such a slow runner anymore, but I find increasing happiness in the places I can go as I continue to gain strength and agility. Trail running in a beautiful place is the closest thing I have ever found to the sheer, simple joys of childhood.
I define happiness in the Aristotelean sense of “a whole life well-lived.” When we walk, run, bike or hike we are living fully in those moments and finding happiness in them. When we brew beer, we fumble our way from one step to the next with lots of joking and laughter. When we open a bottle of our homebrew four or more weeks after brew day, we are happy, satisfied, and proud of what we have done together and of how wonderful this moment feels. If we can add up enough of those moments, they might just total up someday to a whole life well-lived.
Not that we’re keeping score or anything…
For now I’ll just take the moments, and let the moments accumulate, trusting that as they accumulate I will be living each one as fully as I can.
When we realized that we were both on an activity streak and that neither one of us intends to break it, we told each other we would not be competitive; we would be mutually supportive. Now we each make room in our daily routine for the thirty minutes or more of activity that brings us happiness — whether we walk or hike together or he rides his bike while I run behind him. It’s already becoming something that we simply do each day without fail… because to do so is to live this day: fully, slowly, and happily.
Charlie wasn’t a runner, but I think he would understand and applaud our conscious approach to these moments.
I’ll miss you Charlie… and I’ll never think of you without smiling. You were a truly happy man, an exemplar of happiness, a model of unconditional positive regard, and a most cherished friend. Farewell!