A Simple Life Lesson for Us All: The Late Shirley Levine
Sometimes it takes a funeral to wake us up to what’s most important in life. Shirley Levine was my Principal when I was a child at Heschel Day School and was an educator extraordinaire. I had a lot of anger as a kid and often found myself in her office. The teachers and my parents were worried about me, how to work with me as I acted out. Shirley said, "Be patient with him, he's going to come into his own." That time came and now here I am writing to you. When the flag at the school was raised at half mast, there were over a thousand people at her funeral, filled with teachers, students, family and friends. But during her son Darren's eulogy a moment of clarity washed upon me.
He said that his mother’s lasting message is:
“Be passionate about what you do, treat others with compassion, and take actions to make the world a better place.”
We can’t help it, it’s wrapped into our brains’ wiring to get trapped into the routines of life and a world of “ME” and not realize what really matters.
Here's a look at her simple, yet profound message:
Be passionate about what you do – For Shirley, her life was the people and kids she worked with. She was passionate about it. If you’re going to do something, open up your whole heart to it and give it your best shot. What’s the purpose of living life half-heartedly? Whether you work at McDonalds, are a teacher, or a sales person it doesn’t matter, the way you act in your work makes a difference to those around you. All kinds of thoughts can arise to refute this, like “What’s the point, my work is for another company” or “I get paid the same no matter what I do.” But test it out for yourself, how do you feel when you do something half-heartedly versus living life as if it mattered. You may just be opening yourself up to a better life.
Treat others with compassion – In my mind, this is a no brainer, but easier said than done. We’re wired to make everything routine and to objectify the world, including people. The person at the checkout line, your boss, your teacher or the person walking by you on the street aren’t people to you most of the time, they’re moving objects. Yet these people all have their histories of perceived failures, insecurities and losses. They all have their experiences of adventure and moments of extreme laughter. They’re all human just like you. Practice saying, “Just like me” when you see the people around you, see what happens. You may just awaken a greater sense of connection and your wise heart.
Make the world a better place – Every action makes a difference. Just think, if you’re parents made a single different move, perhaps forgot their keys and had to go back home or chose not to go up to her and introduce himself, you may not be here. Every interaction you have with someone and every way you choose to interact with the world has ripple effects across countless people and in fact creates the world we live in. Ask yourself, what actions am I taking to make the world a better place? Is this part of my life practice? If not, why not? It could be just the way you treat others at work and at home or it may be dedicating time to an organization that supports a cause you believe in. No matter what you do in life, you touch people’s lives and there are countless opportunities to continue to make a difference and as the life of Shirley Levine shows us, it’s incumbent on us to do so.
“Be passionate about what you do, treat others with compassion, and take actions to make the world a better place.” ~ The late Shirley Levine.
As always, please share your thoughts, stories and questions below. Your interaction creates a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.