Oh, Mary

Talk to the Hand

March 15, 2021
Patrick McGuire

“Please stop talking,” she said. “Can’t you see I’m eating a popsicle?” 

I always talk too much. In this case, I was sucking all of the air out the room and Anne Jane wasn’t having it. She was ill and I was nervous. I talk faster when I’m nervous. I had brought over a dinner to share. It didn’t matter. She was fixated on the singular experience of a tart tangerine frozen dessert. 

I did stop talking, but the irony wasn’t lost on me. I was a professional speed-talker, and I was upstaged by a homemade popsicle.

Anne Jane was a dancer, choreographer, teacher, and my lifelong friend. Peritoneal mesothelioma cut her life short, but on this day, she offered a solid-gold lesson, “Quality over quantity, dear friend. Don’t try to live in every moment because you can’t. Try your best to live now.” 

We’d talked many times about Leo Tolstoy’s epic short story The Three Questions. The story concerns a king who believed he would not fail if he knew 1) what is the right time for every action, 2) who were the right people to be with, and 3) what is the most important thing to do. The genius of Tolstoy is that he gives the reader all the answers. 

There is a difference between living a long life and living a rewarding life. Anne Jane was showing me the way to richness in life. She was demonstrating that you have to create quality in the moment, even when life never manages to slow down.  

How do we recommit to quality over quantity? How do we realize true well-being in an age of continuous partial attention, outrage fatigue, pent up demand from Covid, and a business and stock market bursting with unspent capital?

The answers may come from the objective laws of nature. Richness—true reward—comes from stumbling forward into the unknown. It’s about not always having the right guidance. It’s not clinging to what we know, or what we think we know.

At this moment in time, it feels like the world, having suffered so mightily, suddenly has possibility again. Classrooms beckon for renewed primary learning, and the era of home-schooling and the over promise of online learning is ending. Stimulus bills are creating economic growth and the Dow Jones soars above 32,000. The world is breathing again. Hope is a powerful thing. 

Don’t just take my word for it. Every CEO I know is asking “What is my job, right now, at this moment? Not every moment. But this one.”

Well, here’s an idea. Compare today with yesterday. Not someone else’s today either, by the way. It’s almost impossible not to look at competitors, but maybe try it, just this once.

“Quality is never giving up,” Anne Jane said. “Quantity is making a list of our limitations, and all of the things we do not have.” It’s trite but let’s all please stop with the accumulation of material things when the actual treasure isn’t a thing at all, but the person sitting right in front of us. 

Our lives are filled to the ceiling with all of the things we thought we needed. What we own now owns us. Cast it off. Be gone!

Anne Jane finished her popsicle. I cleaned up the dinner plates from the meal I brought over from a fancy nearby restaurant.  

“Anne Jane, why don’t you have a dishwasher?”  

“We never really needed one.”