The Well Lived Life

Last week our oldest son, Rick, a long distance runner who has long been an aficionado of audio books during his runs, called me. “Mom I am listening to the most intriguing new book. It’s by a 102 year old lady doctor. She talks just like you do about growing one’s “juice” in order to fully embrace life. I think you’d enjoy it. I don’t listen to too many books where the author reminds me of you. At the end she advises her readers to spend their energy wildly! Mom, I see you doing that.”
I smiled as I clicked off my cell phone. Do I talk so strangely? I wondered as I Googled the author and ordered the book. I discovered that she is very much alive and still working! A few days later I was completely immersed in The Well Lived Life by Dr. Gladys McGarey, MD. She grew up in India in camps where her traveling missionary doctor parents ministered to the Untouchables. Gladys enjoyed a unique upbringing. She reports that when her mother passed away at a very old age, that Gladys could not really be sad because her mother lived a life filled with love and community and had accomplished everything she ever hoped for.
That thought has been roiling around in my mind. Dr. Gladys, as she is called, offers six secrets to a well lived life which include meeting the world with love, and understanding the vast power of community; she says we are truly not alone, that life is about human connection. [Her secrets: We are here for a reason; All life needs to move; Love is the most powerful medicine; You are never truly alone; Everything is your teacher; Spend your energy wildly.]
The other morning as I was trekking up a steep incline of the trail on my old horse, Gladys’ ideas intruded into my consciousness; the power of the human connection. Gladys spent much of her career doctoring to people in Afghanistan and India. She tells of an experience when she was needed in the mountains of Afghanistan, reachable only by donkey. Though she was hardy she was concerned about the ride up a steep trail, after all, at that point she was 86 years old!
The donkey train started up the mountain and Gladys, precariously perched, was beginning to lean awkwardly off the side of the donkey. An Afghan woman seeing her wobbly plight rode up next to her and grabbed the only halter available, Gladys’ bra strap, and held her steady to the top of the trail: the power of community. The women did not even speak the same language!
That story reminded me of one of my most profound travel moments when I too encountered a remarkable sisterhood in the most distant corner of Nepal in 2011. It occurred at the end of a seventeen day trek through the lower Annapurna Mountains. The final activity of the trip was an elephant safari through the jungle of Chitwan National Park.
Our safari was to search out one-horned rhinos from a wooden perch atop each of three 11,000 pound female elephants. When the adventure was over the mahouts settled the three elephants in the four-foot deep water of the river. Our guide asked if anyone wanted to sit on an elephant and be sprayed. The spraying was exciting until my elephant started to roll over onto her side. I quickly scrambled off and swam to shore. Later, when all of us had had our fill of being showered by the elephants, Raj, our trek leader said, “So does anyone want to clean the elephants?”
I had no idea what that meant. I waded back into the river to one of the elephants. Raj instructed us to splash water up onto their big backs and gently rub. I began. It was marvelous. Her dark grey hide was very thick and felt rough to my touch. She seemed to enjoy the attention. Before long, growing more confident, I trudged up to her head and began cleaning her enormous ear. I scrubbed rhythmically as she leaned into my touch. As I continued, I studied her beautiful thick eye lashes, the few graceful hairs on her head, and noted the look of contentment in the visible eye. She was so immense. It was wonderful. I could hardly take a breath for feeling the enormity of the moment I was sharing with her. She was still and relaxed. We both seemed to have moved into a kind of bliss. It lasted for long minutes.
After a while my fellow elephant cleaners were climbing out of the water through the mud onto the bank. The rain was coming down and we were all drenched and becoming chilled. Everyone headed back to camp but me. I was still absorbed in my elephant’s beautiful head. Finally from the shore, Raj called, “So Donna are you staying?”
That pulled me from my reverie. “Could I?” I asked meekly.
Raj smiled as he replied, “Yes.” The group then left while I lingered in the water, truly “soaking in” the experience and the magic. The elephant continued to lean into me and I into her.
Finally one of the trainers came back to help me climb up to shore. I headed up the river bank to walk back to camp. I bumbled my way along for awhile. I was somewhat dazed from being with the elephant, but I was in too much of a state of bliss to actually “get” that I was lost! I continued on. After a while I encountered three Terai women who were harvesting the crops. They saw immediately that I was disoriented. They giggled a bit at my expense. I see now that it was fairly funny. Here was this foreign lady in a soaking wet bathing suit wandering around the perimeter of a massive field, who was clearly lost!
The giggles continued as they gently turned me around and pointed me in the correct direction. We shared shy smiles. By this time I realized I was in a predicament. One lady pulled me in a bit closer and squeezed me in affection. It occurred to me that I was half-way around the planet in a foreign culture, being assisted by beautiful sari dressed women who were tending me as one of their own. We did not share language, or customs, but we did share a bond of human understanding.
That moment and Gladys’ bra harness story remind me how much we need each other. Dr. Gladys believes that when we look for the loving friend in others and spend our energy wildly in the act of living, that those behaviors are part of the secret to a well lived life. She says, “Aligning our life force with community…opens us up to possibilities we may never have considered. Life itself rises up to support us through community.” Perhaps we could adopt a goal to live our lives with so much zeal and so fully that when our time is over the best thing our loved ones can say is “he or she lived their life wholly!”
Have you had an unforgettable moment when someone stepped in to lend assistance which underscored that we are not alone, that we are all connected through our humanity? Are you using your energy wildly? If so what are you doing? I love to know what you are thinking. Also, you might really enjoy Dr. Gladys’ book. It is on
My best, donna