Life’s Too Short

A Powerful Cliché: As writers we’re supposed to avoid clichés, but the title of this post happens to be a special one for me. There’s a lot of power in those three words. I’m living proof… for the moment. Allow me to explain by starting with a quote:

“Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.” ~ William Hutchinson Murray

Unlike the title, that quote’s a bit long, but I still love it. I first read it in Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art in late 2003. It really resonated with me then and it’s only grown more meaningful for me since. If you’re wondering what the quote has to do with the title, I hope to show you in the next few paragraphs.

Mag Black and whiteMoment of Commitment: Over the past holiday weekend, I found myself retelling the tale of our life-change. My wife and I had been discussing the possibilities for a year or more before we committed to moving to our cottage in the woods and dedicated ourselves to living a more fulfilling life together. I’ve written about it before, but the retelling got me wondering which of the events was the one that tipped the scales and nudged us past hesitancy. I think there was one particular inciting incident, and it may sound strange to those who’ve never truly loved a pet. It was the death of our beloved Maggie, in September of ’02. Although we didn’t leave our business and move to our cottage for another year, Mag’s passing was the tipping point. More on that in a minute. For now, suffice to say it was the day my wife and I started routinely using that old clichéd phrase: Life’s too short. The more we said it, the more sense it made.

Tragic Impetus: As sad as our dog’s death was for us, it wasn’t the actual beginning of our life-change. There was an evolution of mindset. I think that evolution may have begun on September 11, 2001. Such a strange and tragic day. The earth seemed to tilt off of its axis that morning, and for so many it took a long while for it to return to spinning as it once had. I’m guessing for some, it still hasn’t fully righted itself. I don’t personally know anyone who was wounded or killed that day, but it was a definite mindset shift. I won’t trouble you to explain the details, as we each have our own personal version of it.

A Movie? Really? Shortly after that mindset shift came the next in a series of life-altering moments. Again, it may seem trivial for those who don’t share my lifelong ardor. This next moment came in the form of the release of a movie. Yep, a movie. And a movie based on a fantasy story, at that.

On December 19, 2001, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring debuted in theaters across the U.S. My brother-in-law and I went to the film’s first showing on Saturday the 20th. Beforehand I’d been skeptical. But I held a hope that the film would recapture my first favorite book. I remember sitting in the theater. The opening was a female narrator reading backstory. I still wasn’t convinced (although the footage of elves and men fighting orcs on the plains of Gorgoroth was pretty cool). But when the actual opening scene began, a panoramic view of the Shire, I was instantly spellbound. I whispered to my bro-in-law, “Does it look as good as you hoped?” He leaned over. “No,” he whispered. I turned and raised a brow. “It’s even better,” he added. We were grinning like idiots by the time Gandalf made his appearance.

So how was the release of Fellowship so life-altering? It reminded me of my former self. It reawakened the boy who had wanted so fervently to connect with story that he dared to imagine himself as the storyteller. I went home and immediately dug out my old box-set of LOTR and started reading. It was the first fiction I’d read in many years. I instantly fell back under the spell of well-told story.

Regained Perspective: Rereading LOTR helped me to make sense of a world that didn’t seem to make sense anymore. It reminded me of the real meaning of friendship and loyalty, of Frodo_Aragornthe importance of finding one’s own definition of honor in the face of death. For the sake of employment, I lived in a place I did not love, devoting much of my time and energy to earning a secure financial status. The Lord of the Rings reminded me of the significance of beauty and the exploration of emotions. It reminded me to appreciate a shared love. And of what the true ideal of home meant to me.

Canine Life-lessons: I mentioned the death of our Maggie earlier. When the day came, I was almost a year into the reawakening of my former self through rediscovering fiction. Saying goodbye to our girl was one of the most difficult and moving moments of my life. My wife and I both immediately knew things would never be the same afterward. She left us on a sunny autumn Friday morning. We couldn’t face going to work, so we drove to our cottage in Michigan, still in shock. When we arrived, before we even got out of the car, we were reminiscing about how excited Mag would get on the days we came to Michigan. She had known even before us—this was home. This was where we belonged.

Maggie had been with us through most of our successes in business. The presence of her spirit in our lives had been such a blessing—vital to our wellbeing during difficult years of hard work. But her life was over, and it had seemed so damn fleeting. Looking back on them, those years had been a blur. Because of her, we knew. None of the rest of it mattered. We belonged at home, exploring what really mattered, and finding it together.

Maggie taught us the true meaning of the words: Life’s too short.

Providence Moves: It was a bold step, leaving a lucrative business and moving to a cottage. But every step since we committed ourselves has been providential. In other words: “A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way.”

The move home led to much more reading, including Steven Pressfield’s Gates of Fire. Which led me to his website, which led me to The War of Art, which led me to the above quote as well as this one: “Are you a born writer?… In the end the question can only be answered by action. Do it or don’t do it.” Which led to me scribbling the beginnings of a story in a notebook while I waited at a jobsite for the concrete subcontractor, about a Gothic boy who was a scion and the warrior-girl who was secretly his guardian.

The Providential Road Goes Ever On: From a tentative beginning, and through a mostly secret drafting of my trilogy, I was led to exploration of the craft and business of fiction. Which led to Writer Unboxed. Which led me to finding myself as a writer—and thereby as a person. As well as all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings. Including some of the most wonderful and meaningful friendships of my life.

Mag on PinehurstSo those three words, life’s too short, the real wisdom of which was only learned because we gave our hearts to a dog, has led to all manner of insight and opportunities, the likes of which I could never have dreamed would come my way. So thanks, Mag.

What about you? Have you committed to a bold step? If so, has Providence moved for you, too? 

[Black and white photo of Maggie by Mike Lanka, of Lanka Photo]

34 comments on “Life’s Too Short

  1. Eileen says:

    Thanks Vaughn. :’-}
    You’re so right – Life’s too Short. Thank you for sharing Maggie with us.

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  2. I loved this piece, Vaughn. My husband and I talk about this a lot . . . the danger of getting swept along in life’s busyness; the danger of not living intentionally. You and your lovely wife paid attention to Nudges and followed them, even when it was probably a little scary to do so!

    Thanks so much for sharing!

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    • “…the danger of getting swept along in life’s busyness…” Love that, Sarah! And we were, for the better part of two decades. And it was scary. But in the almost decade since, we’ve never regretted our decision, nor a moment of the time spent living here.

      I’m glad the post resonated for you! Thanks for reading and letting me know!

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  3. Vaughn, what a wonderful post. It resonated with me for perhaps different reasons than some, but no less deeply. All my life I’ve rebelled against living by standards of “what was expected”. Strangely enough, not from my parents, who always told me I could become whatever I wanted, but more from the “you must do X to earn Y in order to exist”. And “existing” is all it is. For a while, I lost my way and did get caught up in it as my rebellious ways got exhausting. But I wasn’t happy. Far from it. I decided a few years ago that death of the soul wasn’t worth my moderate comfort, so I came back to myself. I might be poorer, but I am infinitely richer for it.

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    • I love this comment. I’m honored that my words struck a different chord for you, Lisa. I’ve done some thinking about the force of externally applied expectations. In fact, it’s a prominent theme in my work.

      “I decided a few years ago that death of the soul wasn’t worth my moderate comfort, so I came back to myself. I might be poorer, but I am infinitely richer for it.” Ah, that’s just beautifully put. Amen. Thanks so much for sharing it.

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  4. Think Pigeon says:

    Hi Vaughn. I really enjoyed your post. Like you, I made a decision to stop thinking about changing my life and actually do something about it a few years ago. I have no idea where I’ll end up – I’m working hard at enjoying the journey rather than thinking about that. Your blog has made me think about the opportunities that present themselves when I have the right mindset and I’m ready for action. And you reminded me that the tough episodes in life can be full of positive potential. Oh, and a dog has played an important part in my story too. Woody, my 1 year old rescue staffie, encourages me to get out of my head and notice what’s around me. Lovely pictures of Mag. Thank so much for writing. Denise

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    • Hurrah to keeping the right mindset and staying ready for action! 🙂 I’m honored that the post can be a reminder to others today. It fills my heart right up knowing that Mag’s spirit can still be such a powerful blessing. Thanks for reading and for sharing your story, Denise. Give Woody a hug for me! May Providence continue to move for you as you live each day to the fullest!

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  5. larartaylor says:

    Vaughn, my life too has been turned upside the last few years and my reawakening has taken much longer, in fits and starts. Mine too was sparked with the death of my first husky, Shadow, who was my friend and constant companion. I have several paths I am walking concurrently right now, but yes, all 3 are moved forward by me constantly acting on what I want for the future—things always come together! It’s the most amazing thing! 🙂 Thank you for sharing. And in addition, that path you were on? It led us to be friends! How cool is that? 😉

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    • Aw, thanks for sharing about Shadow. It’s hard but so meaningful, isn’t it? There are always going to be fits and starts, but staying on the path and staying positive is key. It is amazing! And I think having you as a friend is extremely cool. 🙂 I’m blessed to be on the path beside you!

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  6. Tonia Marie Houston says:

    Such a moving post and so many inspiring comments, Vaughn. You always send me a little deeper into my brain, searching for those sneaky yet infinite truths.
    I was laid off three years ago, and at a time when my family was already hurting financially. We have three children, and had just moved into a home we had hoped to buy. Not to mention plans for a wedding later that year. But we decided I would stay home. It was a tough decision, but I’m so glad we did it. I’ve been able to form better relationships with my children, and…after just a few restless months, I knew I had to write. I knew it was an opportunity.
    We always have room for dreams in our lives, and for the person we’re meant to be. But we’re these silly humans who forget that the best lives we lead are the ones inside ourselves.
    And what Mr. Pressfield says about Providence? Completely true- I’m still writing, we married just over a year ago, and bought our home two months ago. I’m going to keep writing, and be grateful. I have all I ever wanted- a beautiful family and the chance to scribble poetry and tell stories. We’re poor- no cable for us, and I’m a thrift shop queen- but we’re happy and already planning for our next dream of moving to Washington State.
    What I would love to see are others finding their dreams and living a simpler life. It’s a beautiful place to be, isn’t it? 😉
    And many thanks to Mag for her wisdom. Our family dog may not make it through the summer, and she’s been a sweet friend to us. If our girl Precious has taught us anything, it is loyalty.

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    • Thanks so much for sharing. Talk about taking the conversation to the next level. I know these decisions must weigh even more heavily with children involved. I know these years you’ve spent with your children are full of memories for them, and for you, that will last a lifetime! I’m so very proud of you, Tonia! You exemplify the can-do spirit. Whatever your financial bracket, you are a leader and an inspiration to our community. It is a beautiful place to be–even moreso with you in my world. Soak in every minute with Precious, and make her sunset years as comfortable as possible. After all the love they selflessly give through their lives, our dogs deserve it.

      Thanks again, Tonia! Keep striving for your dreams, and I can read your book on the plane to Washington State to visit. 🙂

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  7. Julie Luek says:

    Vaughn, this post resonates in my heart so much. What speaks to your heart and becomes a catalyst for change doesn’t need to make sense to anyone else. So often it has to do with where we are at in life, what has pierced our hearts, and what we know we need to do. For me, my kids leaving home, approaching my latter 40’s, dealing with a life disappointment and working in a dead-end job all prompted me to say the same thing: Life is short. And I want to savor and live each day fully, striving for my dreams. Here’s to you and your wife and your beloved Maggie.

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    • You’re right, Julie. The circumstances may vary, but we all hold our own truth in our hearts, and therein lies the catalyst. I’m glad you’re embracing each day, and living life to the fullest. Give your gorgeous dog a big sniff and a kiss for me! 😉 I’m glad the post resonates for you. Thanks for sharing a bit of your journey!

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  8. liz says:

    This is lovely, Vaughn. And I’m so impressed with your bravery to step off into the unknown and create the life you dreamed of. (Impressed by Maureen, too.) And I’m so glad you found your way to Writer Unboxed. Your step off the path enriched the roads of many others, too.

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    • Thanks, Liz! We certainly had our share of days wondering if we did the right thing–especially during the housing market’s tumble. But there’s another cliche that is true: What doesn’t break you makes you stronger. We feel blessed. And I know I am blessed by my association with WU and my tribe.

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  9. ddfalvo says:

    Maggie was a beautiful girl; those photos capture all the charm that I imagine made her so dear to you and Mo. I am sorry for your loss.

    I can see how your personal journey is mirrored in your awesome epic; a great tale that will connect readers like this inspiring post. 🙂

    Robin Hobb’s Farseer trilogy inspired me to really think about the role of a catalyst, and make connections in my work and in my life through that concept. It’s stunning once you get it–kind of like the opportunity to see behind the wizard’s curtain.
    Every single aspect of our lives is a thread woven around, under, between, over and through all the other threads in the great design. Even when the independent renegade snaps from the tension or wears from abuse, it dangles–still bound by the weave–until the hand of fate pulls it free. The shuttle is the catalyst, it clicks along the loom, molding us to our purpose. We can warp the line and buck the harmonious flow. But when we find our place in the pattern, there is enduring strength overall.

    The rhythmic clack of true purpose is the best music, imho. Kind of like writing in the zone. 🙂

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    • Aw, Mag was such a sweet girl. Belle makes us laugh every day. But Mag would kiss away your tears or stay by your sickbed for days. She was a gentle soul. I’ll always miss her. So thanks, D.

      Hobb has taken my perspective on all of this to a new level. Thanks so much for the introduction! As I get older, I’m not so sure about getting wiser, but I do more clearly see the weft and the warp you are so eloquently describing here. It’s all had its place in the fabric of our lives, and it certainly shows up in my work. Funny how our work helps us to see the threads even more clearly. I’m still learning the pattern, but the flow continues, and the fabric is far from finished. Totally agree with your music analogy, D.

      Thanks so much for being a part of the Providence that has come my way since we made our commitment, my friend! 🙂

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  10. Thea says:

    Vaughn, I don’t share this much -Terri was with me on this journey when it went down, but almost 7 years ago, I lost my wallet. In Atlanta. On my way home. I couldn’t prove who I was but I looked earnest enough that they let me on the flight to go home. I tore my stuff apart over and over, searching in vain. I called the hotel and they didn’t have it. I fretted and prayed. Finally, I just prayed. And as I was looking up, like a flash of light, I remembered where I’d left my wallet. Tucked in a hidden place in the hotel room. I called them, they were skeptical but sure enough, it was found and they overnighted it to me. Actually, losing my wallet was a metaphor for what was happening to me. Over the past year, I lost every remnant of the life I created for myself. And all I had left beside me were my two dogs. Both were lost and rescued pups and amazingly not destructive. Like they were born not chewing up everything. Baby came into my life when my fifteen year old dog, Beauregard, was dying. He stayed with me for love alone, I believe, and when I found Baby on the side of the road and brought him home, they sniffed and rubbed noses. And a few days after, he was gone. Best freakin dog evah. Brave, strong, brilliant, savvy, affectionate, loyal and devoted. I honestly didn’t think I could ever love a dog like that again (or a man, for that matter LOL) I do believe God sent Baby to me at that exact moment for that exact reason – to love again. And then Petey came into my life as well. Both of them are like two sides of a coin, gifted with amazing personalities. And even though they are older fellas now, they are still by my side. I often wonder what it all means and of course I cannot prove the divine element of it all, but I believe in God, the Universe, the magical, the unexplainable, the serendipity, and I believe in love and that there is a reason for everything that takes us to where we are right now. With us both, I see, a good dog or two has led us on our way. t

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    • Wow, Thea. Amazing wallet story, and so wise of you to see the metaphor in it. And you got me all teary reading about Beauregard and Baby. I absolutely believe Baby’s arrival was Providence. And I do think dogs do help us to understand the divine. God made them our companions for a reason. What a beautiful enhancement of this conversation. I am honored by having your share your canine derived wisdom here, my friend! Thank you! God bless you and your boys, Thea!

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  11. sugaropal says:

    Dogs teach us so much don’t they? All without using a single word of human language. For me, getting kicked off the employment hamster wheel was the turning point. Years of being a diligent worker-bee and my soul had nothing to show for it, nothing that made me feel alive or fulfilled or unique in any way. I’m glad you found your way and that I found mine and that our “ways” crossed 🙂 Thanks for a great post.

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    • Total Providence, having our paths cross, Rhiann. I’m grateful! Thanks for a cool comment, and for reminding me of Two Hearts the other day. I was looking for a birthday song for Mo’s fb wall (shhh, don’t tell her I had help from my bestest 80’s music buddy). Enjoy your dogs, my friend. They show us the way to seizing each day!

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  12. A beautiful post. A big help to for one standing at a crossroads. Thank you.

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    • Thanks, B, but you are such a supportive cheerleader for me, it’s the least I can do. (And I read right over the finger-slip.) Blessed be your journey. I know you will make wise choices, my friend!

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  13. Bernadette Phipps-Lincke says:

    I meant *too, but my fingers didn’t type the second ‘o’. 🙂

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  14. Vaughn, I always love to read your posts because they’re just so darn good and filled with such heart. This one is no exception. You are where you are supposed to be and I’m glad I know you.

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  15. Nicole L. Bates says:

    Vaughn, I’m so sorry about your Maggie. We had a Maggie too, a golden retriever that was Ben’s before he met me, and then ours together for a few years. She was one of the sweetest and most loyal dogs. When Ben had to go away for a few months for training, one day she got in the car and WOULD NOT come out, she wanted to go see Ben! It’s amazing the things that can change the whole course of your life. It’s inspiring to know how hard you’ve worked toward your dream and I look forward to seeing it come true for you!

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    • Must be that all Maggie’s are sweet and wise, huh? 🙂 That’s a cool story. Thanks for sharing it, Nicole. I know how long and hard you’ve worked, too. And, even with the occasional setback, I do think we’re destined to succeed. I’m so sure a big part of the Providence that has come to us all is that we found each other, and formed such a wonderful tribe. I don’t know where I’d be without you guys! Good luck getting through your crazy week (hope you found some good music). Thanks for reading and commenting, Nicole! 🙂

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  16. Oh my, this is eerie…

    I agree. September 2001 was a tipping point that left me off-kilter for awhile, and then I lost my mother in 2003. Other difficult, life-altering events followed that culminated with a grave illness in 2009. Since my recovery in 2011 I’ve worked my way back to the writing I loved and discovered I love it more than I realized. Too, I’ve decided to follow my heart and my dream and relocate to a location that’s attuned to me and inspires my writing.

    The eerie part? When you were posting this I was accidentally discovering that location…was sitting at its center writing poetry, in fact. So much is coming together and I give thanks for it all. I also give thanks for this inspiring and insightful post. Thank you.

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    • *Cue Twilight Zone music* Seriously, I’ve had so many people tell me in the last week or so that they’ve been contemplating a life or appreciating the Providence that something–even tragedies–have wrought in their lives. I’m not sure if it’s in the stars or something in the air and the trees, or what, but it’s real.

      I’m glad you’re recovered and seizing each day’s opportunities. I do love reading your poetry, Christina. So if this new location was feeding that beauty, then it’ll be Providential. More will come if you commit. Glad the post resonated, and thanks for your kind words. Many blessings to you as you move forward!

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  17. Lisa Ahn says:

    I love reading this sketch of your journey. It’s amazing how life offers up events, small and large, that remind us who we are. Fifteen years ago, I was finishing a PhD in English, sure I’d become a college professor. The path since then has had a lot of twists, and I’m exactly where I need and want to be. Happy. Cheers, to you, your wife — and Maggie.

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    • Thanks, Lisa! Coming back to this post today is therapeutic. Seems like the days since I wrote this have FLOWN by. It’s such a hectic time of year, and this year seems to be even moreso. I’ve missed some of your posts, Lisa, as well as those of others I enjoy connecting with. I think I needed to step back today and realize how important our mantra really is. It takes diligence to live in the moment. I’m so glad you enjoyed the post, and nudged me back here to remind myself. Hope you’re having a great (and not so hectic) summer, my friend!

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  18. […] lab before Belle who taught us that Life’s Too Short, and I’ve already written about Maggie, here. Belle was most certainly blessed by Maggie’s sacrifice and life-lessons. Because of Maggie, we […]

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