I am the founder of a startup whose name means to utter impulsively. I believe that when you are impulsive with your words, it's usually the truth, and truth is an important value to me. People who know me well would argue that expressing my feelings is not an issue for me, but that is not true. I have no problem expressing discontent, criticism, and opinions, but when it comes to expressing love, I will suffer quietly, in the corner, hoping the other person is gifted with telepathy.
I am fascinated by the work of Bronnie Ware, an Australian nurse who spent several years caring for patients in the last few weeks of their lives and recorded their dying epiphanies in a blog called Inspiration and Chai. She put her now-popular observations into a book called The Top Five Regrets of the Dying. Of the five regrets, the one I struggle most with is "courage to express my feelings."
In 2006 I lost one of my closest childhood friends in a tragic accident. She was 31 years old. If I was getting ready to pass away I would have liked to have a clean house, paid bills, and all my passwords in order, but my friend was not like that. She was a free spirit. I looked for clues in the journals she left behind to see if there was any unfinished business.
From her journals, I learned that my friend had one great love. The kind you just never get over. She tried to move on, convincing herself that she'd settle down, try to marry another, have kids, maybe even move back to Texas and get a red mini-Cooper. I was not sure if this was her unfinished business, but I spoke to God in a prayer and said, "If this is her unfinished business, let me finish it for her." While staying in San Francisco, her hometown, I decided to venture out with a mutual friend of ours, Anita. My only request was to stay as far away from tourists as possible, which meant that Fisherman's Wharf was out of the question.
As I stood at the top of Grace's Cathedral, I could see the water and the sailboats from afar. I said I would not visit Fisherman's Wharf, but the gravitational pull was so strong that I said, "I have to go down there." On our way down to the water, we must have passed at least eight restaurants. We'd look at a menu and I would shrug my shoulders, expressing my discontent with the options, and keep walking. I did this at least eight times, and being the patient yogi friend that Anita is, she just followed my lead. We made it to Fisherman's Wharf, and we sat on a bench looking at the tourists. I could not believe I ended up in the one place I said I wanted to avoid.
We found a great restaurant on the pier, and as we were diving into our dessert, a man comes to take the ketchup bottle away and says, "I'm sorry, I don't think you want ketchup with your chocolate?" Anita looked up and she said, "Michael?" I can be anti-social when I want to be and the dessert was getting cold. I proceeded to dive in for another bite and with a big spoon of chocolate in my mouth, Anita says to me, "Jeanette, do you know who this is?" It was my friend's great love.
He had moved to Florida several years before she had passed away. There was no reason for him to be in San Francisco other than a few years ago, he had moved back and was now a manager of a restaurant on the Wharf. I could hear a voice in my head saying, "Tell him now." I wish I could say it was easy for me, but with tears held back and a mouth full of chocolate I held his arm and said, "I just need you to know that she really loved you."
The courage to express how you really feel sounds so simple, but if it was that simple, it would not be people's top five regrets as they near the end of their lives. From that moment on, while it has taken me some work, I have tried to find the courage to say more how I feel. I did not exactly say the words, "I love you," but I tried to come as close as I could. Maybe next time I'll try filling my mouth with chocolate first, and then say it. Even if it sounded something like "I waffle you," it would make any kiss that would follow sure taste a lot sweeter.
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