When folk singer and political activist Pete Seeger died recently, at age 94, I was filled with great sadness. His larger-than-life presence and spirit, head thrown back in song, will be missed in this world. I also thought, though, that his was truly “a life well-lived,” as the saying goes. From the 1940s to the last years of his life, he spoke out and sang songs for peace (“Where Have All the Flowers Gone?”), civil rights (“We Shall Overcome”), workers’ rights, saving the environment (the Hudson River), and more recently, the Occupy movement. He was tireless, fearless, dedicated, and his heart and soul were in all he did, for human rights, community, and the Earth.
There are so many others who have lived long full lives: Nelson Mandela, Howard Zinn, Simone de Beauvoir, Adrienne Rich, to name only a few. Of course, not all well-lived lives belong to the famous. My own parents, who passed away at 81 and 94, lived long wonderful lives, deeply connected to the natural world around them and to the friends and family they loved. And age is not necessarily a factor either. My dear friend Michael, actor, poet, and musician, died at 39. His life had been creatively filled to the brim while he was alive.
However long they’re here on Earth, some people seem to embody full-out living, treating each moment as a glorious opportunity to experience all of life’s wonders. They stand out in our minds as vital and vibrantly alive. When Pete died, as I thought about the people I know and know of, it occurred to me that perhaps more and more of us are choosing to live our lives as he did. It is a time of great change on our planet, filled with transformation and evolution of all kinds. Many of us are struggling just to survive, but even within those struggles, there is often a deep desire for more than just the material. Our hearts long for human connection, for spiritual connection, and within community and shared experience, we are finding it. There is so much more to life than we can perceive with our physical eyes. Our souls know this, and as we awaken at that level, we will open up to all the possibilities of life, both imagined and beyond imagination.
So, let us take a page from Pete Seeger’s songbook. However long our life’s transit is, let’s live with our heads thrown back, singing, laughing, celebrating every single moment. No half-lives or shelf lives. No sitting on the sidelines and longing for a chance to dance in the circle of life. Let’s step forward fearlessly, heart open, eyes full of light, and fully embrace this precious gift of life we’ve been given. If time is an illusion, as we’re coming to realize, then it’s the quality not the quantity of the years that matters. Let’s make each moment an entire “life well-lived”—expansive, soaring, and full of sweet appreciation.
In memoriam, Pete Seeger, may your beautiful singing spirit continue to inspire us all: