Editor’s Note: This is a guest post from Erica Layne of Let Why Lead.
“Gladys?” I asked as I unlocked her door and stepped inside her dim apartment, a place that instantly transports you back to 1979.
“I’m in bed!” she called.
I walked down the hall and turned the corner to see my 85-year-old neighbor patting down her wispy gray hair.
She rolled her eyes in the direction of her legs and said: “I can’t get out. The paramedics will be here soon. Will you call my daughter?”
She paused and then added, “And bring me a slice of toast?”
I smiled at the way she got right down to the point. Gladys always got right down to the point. I returned to my apartment across the hall and smeared homemade jam on a slice of wheat toast.
As it turns out, that toast was Gladys’ last meal in her apartment; she moved into an assisted living facility after leaving the hospital and passed away not long after.
What Would You Want in Your Last Minutes?
Sometimes I think about that morning and the honor it was to bring my old friend her last meal at home. She seemed to know, in the moment, what not being able to get out of bed meant. She looked around her home with a sense of finality.
But the only things she asked of me? Call her daughter and bring her some toast.
She didn’t ask me to fetch her hair brush or makeup bag. She was well past fussing over her looks.
She didn’t ask me to hand her the newspaper she read every day or to turn on her favorite political talk show.
She didn’t ask me to open the shades so she could take in the view from the windows one last time.
In an apartment full to the brim of the things she’d collected in her 85 years of life, she simply sat and waited.
When it came down to it, nothing meant more than letting her daughter know she was okay and getting some food in her body to give her the energy to get through the morning.
What the Simple Life Does for You
I think, in a way, that this is what the simple life does for anyone who walks it.
But instead of waiting to realize it until you’re 85 and stuck in bed, you can realize it any time you strip away the excess and find the bare essentials taking center stage.
I believe that simple living makes room for self-discovery. Instead of hiding behind the things we’ve amassed and the busy-ness we wear as a badge, we have to confront what we really want of our lives and who we want to be.
The Hard Questions that Simple Living Opens Our Eyes To
It’s not always easy to ask ourselves the hard questions—the kind of questions that I imagine are illuminated in your late days of life but are often squeezed out by more “pressing” things in your 20s, 30s, 40s and more. Questions like…
- Do you speak up when it counts?
- What do you love to do but never make time for?
- In regards to the risks you’re afraid of taking, what do you really have to lose?
- What are you proud of?
- Do you speak kindly to yourself and others?
- Are you living or existing?
- What impact do you want to leave on the people you love?
I think that’s why so many of us fear stillness. Because sometimes, being still feels harder than hustling. Scarier.
Quieting the noise, asking ourselves the hard questions, and uncovering the truest version of ourselves sounds infinitely less safe than buying more clothes or putting in more hours at the office.
Deep down, we know that listening to the voice inside may lead us down a different path than the one we’re taking, and… change is hard.
Finding Your True Self
But when we do the hard work of self-discovery—the stillness finding and the soul searching—we experience more peace and clarity than we ever felt when we were hustling.
And slowly, over time, the idea of the simple life moves from the head to the heart, until it’s really not about the stuff we fill our homes and lives with but instead about the people and pursuits we fill our hearts with.
And we can sit with our thoughts and a slice of toast…
Just like my neighbor Gladys.