I first met John Gray in early-2014. He was a reader of this column and we began a regular exchange of ideas via e-mail. I soon found myself collecting some of his choicest sayings and, to his great enjoyment, wrote a story about him titled Musings on God and Life from an 85-Year Old Expat Living in France.
Over the past several months, his once lengthy e-mails grew shorter, his responses more clipped. He had been in the hospital, was receiving some sort of treatment–and then the messages stopped altogether. Last week, I received a note from his daughter that John had passed away.
I had saved a few of John’s more recent e-mails—and when I cut-and-pasted the best parts into a single document, I realized they read like a complete letter. With a little editing, I pieced together the parting message that John would have surely liked to share with others, had we been able to discuss it.
One of the more interesting parts of John’s backstory is that he left Los Angeles in the 1960s and moved to a small village in France, never to return to the US. But rather than escape from the world, it turns out that John ended up embracing it. I’ll let his words speak for himself, as I bid my friend a fond farewell. (And to Emilie: my sincere condolences to you and your Mom.)
For some context, the letter begins with John encouraging me to enjoy an upcoming vacation after a tough stretch at work. We had previous conversations on the nature of God, and he continues that dialog here.
Hello my dear friend,
Take some time off, you’re not missing anything. Or have you forgotten what that was? Do you have time like Thoreau or Burroughs to know all the different bird calls, to listen to the silence? Are those days gone forever?
As for me, I live my life as best I can, helping my neighbors and friends in my simple way. I believe that God resides in my own being and manifests itself in my acts of kindness, my simple sincerity, trying to respect each person I meet just as they are—prying smiles, tenderness and love out of them; softening their hatreds, their prejudices, their frustrations of the moment.
How I do this is simple. I smile, shake their hands and cheer them up! It is my contribution to humanity and it costs nothing. I try to live each day, in spite of the ugliness I see in our world, with friendship and kindness to all I encounter. I love showing affection to all and my being kind to the hobo on the bench, my complimenting a friend, my feeding the animals and birds, all of these things are the beauty in me that I am sharing.
I do not know where this love and tenderness, compassion and caring, and these other wonderful instincts that perhaps all of us have comes from. Perhaps we accumulate it throughout our lives, each and every one of us; and with time it penetrates and reaches our souls.
So many times joy and happiness swell up inside me, especially when I see a gentle gesture from one toward another. I feel it when I am looking at beautiful paintings, scenes in Nature, a happy couple holding hands walking in the park. I wonder about even the trees who must dread the tornados and dry spells. This idea is not absurd, for even plants seem to react to the love and care of the human hand.
But if God is within us, why is it just in some of us? It is not religion that instills this in Man, it comes from within and why some have it and not others, we do not know. Were the great painters and writers and romantics like us given something special or is it just a quirk of Nature? Is it God or an omniscient power?
This, I cannot answer. But it is an instinct within me that has prevailed my whole life. Whatever its origin, it exists in me. My Dad also had it within him, so this sense of a divine presence may well be part of our genes. And along with all the other positive and beautiful human instincts, it needs to be encouraged and fed.
The spirit is indeed within us. How it flowered in me or you and the millions of others that radiate with this light will remain our mystery. I have accumulated my beliefs from Lao Tzu and our great writers throughout history whose wisdom was wise and positive. What more do we need to guide us in being good to our fellow Man?
Relax now and enjoy your freedom! Enjoy your family in depth and quiet!
Love, happiness and a big hug for all,