“What does it mean to ‘live large?'”
When I posed this question to a friend a year ago, her face clouded up to deliver a surprising response; to her way of thinking, people were living large when they owned big fancy homes and drove luxury cars.
Her reaction was so far from my own that I decided my thoughts about the phrase had been wrong. And rather than testing it further, I promptly forgot it until this morning, when I ran across similar words in Letters To A Young Poet:
“One just comes to relish them increasingly, to be always more grateful, and somehow better and simpler in one’s contemplating deeper in one’s belief in life, and in living happier and bigger.”
Rilke’s experience “in living happier and bigger”, which he described in his third letter to the young poet, was more what I had in mind, which made me relieved that my instincts about the phrase and its meaning were right a year ago. Why don’t I ever trust my own instincts?
For now, I rather think about other questions, and not necessarily questions about the books that have enlarged my life, though like many, I could come up with a short list if I had to. No, I’m more interested in personal experiences or decisions that have enlarged people’s lives. So my new question for today is this: “If you had to name a few life events that ended up enlarging your life, what would they be?”
This morning, I surprised my husband with this question. My husband is not at all introspective, so we rarely talk about this sort of ‘stuff.’ But because he has this incredible memory and ability to think on his feet, my husband quickly offered me two. It was no surprise that he first named our marriage — but the second was a surprise – though as he talked about it, I realized the rightness of it.
It happened about nine years ago, upon his return home from one of his many trips to Asia. I remember he looked me in the eye, and just as serious as he could be, said, “Because you’ve put up with all my business travel without complaint, and because you’ve lived here in Lake Jackson for me these last fifteen years, I’m going to let you decide where we live when we move back to Oklahoma.”
Before granting me this gift, my husband and I had haggled back and forth over where we would one day live — my husband wanted to live either in Norman or in Oklahoma City, while I was pushing for my hometown of Shawnee. Yet, interestingly enough, once my husband granted me the freedom to choose, I never seriously considered Shawnee – instead I considered the two cities near and dear to my husband’s heart. Ultimately, the place was less important than the happiness of being together.
But what is important, that I didn’t even know until today, is that my husband remembers the entire quality of our relationship changing for the better when he offered me this spaciousness, this freedom to dictate our place of residence. He recalls that I became more open with my thoughts and myself, and as a result, that we grew closer. For my part, I recall how I felt so loved, that he would relinquish his say in this decision to me.
I think this growing closer and more connected with others is part of what it means to ‘live large.’ We realize the truth of John Donne’s words — “No man is an island” — and we pay closer attention to how our actions affect others, for good or bad. We hold back our private celebrations out of respect for others who are not enjoying similar successes. And in these ways, ‘living large’ becomes ‘loving large.’
Of course, all this living-loving large comes at personal risk, as we trust another to do right by us. And in this way, enlarging events become doorways without windows to see what lies on the other side. Sometimes, as we step through the doorway, we find ourselves living on the edge, and as we take a step, the edges expand before our very eyes. And sometimes, like today, long after the doorway is far behind us, to where we can no longer see it and even barely recall it, we look back to see it as the life defining moment that it was.
Living large is full of surprises.