Just Dead Inside

True happiness involves the full use of one’s powers and talents—striving towards meaningful goals, not necessarily the attaining of those goals.

John W. Gardner in Self-Renewal


At my going away coffee party at the Star Tribune newspaper (1994), I said to my friends and colleagues: “I don’t know what I’ll be doing two years from now but I do know that I’ll be feeling alive.”

With that I set out on a new journey using myself as my own learning laboratory. What did I want to learn? I wanted to learn how to live. My journey took me out of the corporate world and into a Ph.D. program then a new career as a consultant, a life of writing and photography, a year on the side of a mountain in southwest Colorado, marriage to Melanie, the slow creation of a community of people I care about and the challenging journey into retirement and powerful new awareness and learning.

My odyssey continues today, 22 years after I began.

I recently read Tribe: On Homecoming and Belonging by Sebastian Junger.

In the postscript of his book he told the story of anthropologist Eleanor Leacock, who had spent much time with the Cree Indians of northern Canada.

Junger wrote:

“Leacock went on a hunting trip with a Cree named Thomas. Deep in the bush they encountered two men, strangers, who had run out of food and were extremely hungry. Thomas gave them all his flour and lard, despite the fact that he would have to cut his own trip short as a result. Leacock probed Thomas as to why he did this, and he finally lost patience with her. “Suppose, now, not to give them flour, lard,” he explained. “Just dead inside.’”

Feeling alive inside requires noble goals that we strive for but may never attain. And feeling alive requires that we develop empathy, caring, connection, generosity and compassion for other people. We are not just economic units. More importantly, we are human beings interconnected with all that is alive.

We live in a time in America where millions are afraid of our new president. We can feel alive by offering our support to those with the least power and greatest vulnerability. They need our presence.

5 thoughts on “Just Dead Inside

  1. You have a gift for teaching the deepest of lessons with a wondrous economy of words! With your last paragraph especially you’ve beautifully summed up my mission. I promise you I will do my best to be present, and to show empathy, caring, connection, generosity and compassion for other people. I know you will too. Thank you, Tom.


  2. Am just getting around to reading this, Tom. You and Cree guide Thomas are offering two examples of how to not feel “dead inside”… there is a lot of fear pulsing around “out there” and I have had to go through my own forms of processing grief while finding examples like yours very helpful. I still find myself reverting to cynicism and despair, even though the core of me knows that will not be so helpful!

    I received a “Thought for the Day” today from a friend. Hope it’s not too much to add to the mix in this forum, but I’d like to share it (the author is Victoria Halik): “Love is stronger than differences. We all live on the same planet. We walk on the same earth. We breathe the same air. No matter where I was born, no matter what color skin I have or what religion I was raised to believe in, everything and everyone is connected to this one life. I no longer choose to prejudge others, to feel either superior or inferior. I choose equality, to have warm, loving, open communication with every member of my earthly family. I am a member of the earth community. Differences of opinion are wonderful, colorful varieties of expression. Today my heart opens a little bit more as I go about creating the world I want to live in.”
    In loving spirit, Eleanor


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