Stories of the World

The One Minute Message

Here is the thing about love. Sometimes it's damn inconvenient.   
Things have a way of getting messier, not cleaner. It’s much more fun to run toward a tropical dream than to jump from a burning platform. When we worry about repercussions of saying no, sometimes there is reason for fear. And no matter how much we try to rationalize the contrary, we do run out of time. We don’t always get another shot. We struggle with time and space, room and place, intention and inspiration, abundance and opportunity and pray it all comes out in the end.
A while back I finished the book Transformational Speaking: If You Want to Change the World, Tell a Better Story. The title transfixed me. The first page hooked me. It appealed to my highest good, my truest root, those moments that ricochet around the dark skies of my mind like lightning across Nebraska’s vast expanse in late July.
What are the stories, Gail Larsen writes, that you have earned the right to tell? Which ones no longer serve you, what material should be woven into a new design for a new garment for a new season? They’re provoking thoughts.
A friend of mine, a bright-spirited, life-infused, symphony-of-a-girl got a phone call six years ago. Her parents had been eaten by bears. She told me this over coffee, during our first meeting at Louisa’s Bakery and Café, a couple of hours into the conversation.
“A man I was in love with had just broken up with me,” she recounted. “I remember thinking, ‘This is the worst thing that could possibly happen!” Two days later the phone rang.
Maybe, possibly, even having parents eaten by bears, is not actually the story she was put on this planet to tell. 

But back to Gail Larsen. There is an exercise in her book she calls The One Minute Message. The premise is simple: imagine you have only one minute left to live. You’re lying in your coffin about to close your eyes the last time. What do you most want to tell the world?
I’ve used this exercise with corporate clients with varying degrees of success and illumination. One man cried out, “I’m supposed to be cremated!”
Another floundered for three or four minutes deflecting, avoiding, resisting, condemning, until at last I put both of us out of our misery. According to the model he’d already be dead.
I wanted to hit him with a blunt instrument. Enough to hurt.  Perhaps, I wanted to say, no one has ever asked you such a question. Perhaps you were expecting us to discuss networking, marketing, conflict resolution with front-line managers. But sweet Jesus!
Perhaps that couple in the wilds of Alaska, when they woke to a bright spring day of possibility, perhaps they had not imagined being trapped and tortured, toyed with or torn apart by bears. Who can know their last words, their aspirations or regrets, their message? One minute to think of it may have been a luxury.
You are the only one in all of time who sees the world exactly as you do, who has lived and traveled and breathed and loved in the particular, peculiar way that is yours, who has conversed with the strangers you’ve met on airplanes in the private sanctuary in the sky, watching sunsets unfold eternally for fourteen hours flying West.
Only you have struggled over Algebra with your frustratingly-fourteen year-old sitting at the table with the green checkered cloth, who has your own shy insecurities about the slow crawl of aging, and your public triumphs of bowling titles and new accounts, who understands loss and labor, lay-offs and lay-ups, who –after 47 years on this planet- had better have some idea of what your life stands for!
Other people, of course, have a deeper honed sense of their own purpose. They know their place: where they came from, where they hope to go. One client, an executive chef, told me how he’d used the One Minute Message during a regional meeting. People were dreading the gathering, he included, with budgets down and food and fuel and anxieties rising.
David, the chef, called all the managers together and told them on that day they would be starting differently. He explained the process and watched it unfold. Slowly, like ketchup rolling out a near-empty bottle, it picked up speed. By the end of the meeting small clusters of people stood talking, smiling, clutching at their sheets of paper and crayons, sharing more than vegetables, truffle oil, time cards, and rhubarb.
David wrote his own message on a sticky note and taped it to his laptop. He wants the reminder each day, he said, that each conversation, each encounter matches his vision of education, appreciation, legacy.
It’s a life-long process, I guess, fitting in and standing out. We long for the sense of belonging, of being folded into the warm-bread hug of family, the camaraderie of friends and children, of looking up through new shoots and green banners of trees toward the blue-blue blossom of sky and sheen-winged blackbirds knowing that we fit somehow in the community of things.
The other side of the wishing-well coin is discovering our peculiar brand of humanity: our essence like flowers or wheat, our tenacity like steel or butter, our wit – brazen or subdued, our musicality like lilting flutes at dawn on a river of mist or drums that pump the blood of crowds, lifting them to mutinous rapture.
Only an evolution of honesty, of love, lets us know for sure when the lid on the great box of life is lifted, are we fleas still jumping or have we grown too used to our confinement?
Never settle for an ordinary life.
Never settle for being mostly happy.
And be grateful. Be grateful. Be grateful...