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  • Writer's pictureNeal Hagberg

My Actions Are My Only True Possessions

The NCAA March Madness tournament along with many other sporting events are cancelled due to the Coronavirus pandemic.

Who are you without March Madness? Who are you without the pro tennis circuit? Who are you without the NBA to distract you? The NHL? MLB? Theater? Concerts? Restaurants and bars? Your synagogue, church, mosque, temple? Who are you without your job as custodian? Or teacher? Or fund raiser? Or musician? Or server? Or tennis camp director? Who are you without your college?  Your high school?  Your middle or elementary schools?

Who are you when everything falls apart and is stripped away?  (Ok, Neal, now you’re just depressing me).

Because, at least for right now, everything is stripped away. (I just said you were depressing me).

Raw. (Are you not listening, Neal)?

Uncertain. (Very comforting).

Frightening, even.  (Now you’re just scaring me).

We, as humans, don’t like change, and massive change has come upon us in the form of the novel coronavirus.  Change we maybe should have seen coming, but didn’t.  Or maybe we did and denied it could happen here.  Doesn’t matter, it’s here.

I have good news for you.

You are not your job, or your hobby, your degrees, or your money, your peer recognition, or your awards, your dreams, or your plans.

Thich Nhat Hanh, global spiritual leader.

Thich Nhat Hanh wrote something I have never forgotten.  It is one of the underlying principles of Buddhism, but I would argue it is the underlying principle of every major religion at it’s best.

“All that I hold dear is of the nature to change.  I cannot keep anything. My actions are my only true possessions.”

If that is so, then, even when everything falls apart, we are still left with our essence.  Our actions.

I think of Steve Wilkinson, when he was dying, in his hospital bed in in-home hospice care.  Hundreds of people were sending good wishes.  Dozens were lining up hoping for a last visit to say goodbye.  He could barely speak above a whisper.  And what did he do? He would invite two people at the same time, (Barb was the gatekeeper and you don’t mess with the gatekeeper!) who did not know each other, but who he thought should know each other.  This was his last chance to facilitate it.  One would sit on one side of his bed, the other would sit on the other side.

For me, it was Ryan, someone I had never visited with but who Steve thought I should get to know.  For two hours, we talked.  Or I should say, Ryan and I talked.  We talked about family and philosophy, tennis and business, kids and friends.  Steve was too weak to do much more than close his eyes and occasionally smile.

We left the room as friends after those two hours and Ryan left Steve and Barb’s home. I went back into the living room to apologize for having taken so much time while he was weak.  He smiled his Steve smile and rasped, “That is exactly what I was hoping for.”

Steve Wilkinson putting smiley faces on campers rackets the last year of his life.

In the midst of this crisis, perhaps you can ask yourself daily, what actions can I take today to help someone else through this uncertain time?

A phone call.  A written thank you note (shades of the Thank You Bowl).  Getting groceries to an at-risk individual.  Checking in on those who live alone.  Posting a funny meme.  Sitting, just sitting, with someone who is scared. Social distancing for the greater good.




Steve proved Thich Nhat Hanh right, to the very end.  Our actions are our only true possessions.  No matter how dark it gets, we always have that.  That is all we get.  And that is all we need.


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