Am I Doing Enough With My Life?

Alan Arkin in shirt and cardigan, left, seated on a bench holding a bonsai tree with Michael Douglas in wool cap and sunglasses.
Alan Arkin, left, plays a wealthy, 80-year-old Hollywood agent and Michael Douglas is an aging acting coach who question the meaning of their lives in the Netflix comedy-drama, “The Kaminsky Method.”

“The Kaminsky Method” is a Netflix series my husband and I have enjoyed binge-watching because it’s both hilarious and thought-provoking. The show stars Michael Douglas as Sandy Kaminsky, an aging actor-turned-drama-coach. Alan Arkin is his caustic, elderly best friend; Kathleen Turner is his estranged physican ex-wife; and Paul Reiser plays a retired high school English teacher full of memories and regrets.

As the characters confront health crises and losses through the narrow window of years left to them, each begins to question what they made of their lives.

I am part of a wonderful Facebook group called “Poems, Prayers and Practices,” an assemblage of women artists, poets, non-fiction writers and photographers who meet online to discuss our creative work and faith. We are younger than the characters on “The Kaminsky Method” and hopefully have several more years ahead. Still, the question that often haunts our discussions is whether we are doing enough with our lives.

It’s an understandable question. Each one of us is driven to use whatever talent we have in “the pursuit of excellence” — what the ancient Greeks defined as the true source of happiness. Yet, we are riddled with doubt.

My latest book, “How to Be” with Paul Quenon, a monk of the Abbey of Gethsemani, will be out in November. Am I rejoicing? No, I’m racked with worry about whether the book will mean enough to others.

I’ve already started my next book — a memoir of my experiences in Italy. While I’m very excited about this new project, I still fret at the end of each day of writing: is what I’ve written is as good as it can be?

As the characters in “The Kaminsky Method” eventually realize, we don’t always recognize the gifts we give to the world. We don’t know exactly where the seeds of kindness or creativity we’ve spread will land, or what will be their ultimate outcome.

I recently received a lesson on this very point. I planted a serviceberry tree in our front yard last year to replace a maple that had died. Other trees I’d planted in previous years never managed to make it through winter. To my surprise, my little serviceberry has not only survived, it’s sprouted about three feet and has begun to offer its first buds.

Silently, without fanfare the tree has been living out its purpose, even thriving. I barely noticed, being too preoccupied with other matters to pay attention to its progress. In its way, my serviceberry has been acting out a version of this Sunday’s gospel from Mark:

“It is as if a farmer were to scatter seed on the land and would sleep and rise night and day and through it all the seed would sprout and grow, he knows not how.” He knows not how. Mark adds, “This is how it is with the kingdom of God.”

What follows is Jesus’ famous parable of the mustard seed, a grain that is among the smallest of seeds. Yet, “once sown, it springs up and becomes the largest of plants and puts forth large branches so that the birds of the sky can dwell in its shade.”

Jesus seems to be saying that from even simple acts, mighty deeds can come.

We do not know where our seeds of kindness or creativity will land or what will be their ultimate outcome. (Photo by J. Alden Marlatt).

As serendipity would have it, a friend opened a Zoom meeting this week by reading Julian of Norwich’s famous meditation on a vision she had of a hazelnut rolling in the palm of her hand. It too reinforced for me how we so often miss the significance of small objects and deeds.

Icon of St. Julian of Norwich in a brown religious habit holding before her a tiny hazelnut in her left hand.
Icon of St. Julian of Norwich in a brown religious habit holding before her a tiny hazelnut in her left hand.
Icons often depict St. Julian holding a hazelnut.

Julian says she looked at the hazelnut “with the eye of my understanding and thought: What can this be? I was amazed that it could last, for I thought that because of its littleness it would suddenly have fallen into nothing. And I was answered in my understanding: It lasts and always will, because God loves it; and thus everything has been through the love of God. In this little thing I saw three properties. The first is that God made it, the second is that God loves it, the third is that God preserves it.”

She adds, “God is the creator and the protector and the lover.”

Perhaps we would be less fear-and-doubt-ridden about whether we are doing enough if we took time to contemplate Julian’s seemingly inconsequential hazelnut — created for its own distinct purpose, both loved and preserved. Or my serviceberry tree, growing and sharing of itself even if no one notices.

Perhaps the fact that we are here and alive is proof enough of our purpose.

This week, can we take time to reflect on the gifts we offer? Can we recall the gifts we have received, directly or indirectly, from others? Can we think of ourselves as Julian did of all creation: “God made it … God loves it … God preserves it.”

Can we immerse ourselves in gratitude and trust for the greatest of all gifts, that of being alive?

A budding yellow flower poking out of the ground.
A budding yellow flower poking out of the ground.
Julian of Norwich writes of all creation, “God made it, God loves it, God preserves it.” (Photo by Pat Leyko Connelly).

(For more information on how to join “Poems, Prayers and Practices,” please contact group coordinator Pat Leyko Connelly at “My Haiku Prayers and Photos by Pat Leyko Connelly” on Facebook).

Author of 4 spirituality books & 2 poetry collections. Award-winning reporter for Wall Street Journal, PBS-TV, Washington Post & 2 IL public radio stations.