Living the Generous Life

In 1998, Michael Stipe sat down with Charlie Rose after he released a book of photos. Personally, anyone can talk to Charlie Rose and I’d watch it, but one exchange caught me out of the 1998 interview and I return to it often.

They were talking about Kurt Cobain and William Burroughs. Both were friends with Stipe:

“MS: Yeah, I don’t think I’m capable of suicide, personally. Do you think you are?

CR: Oh, absolutely not.

MS: Was there a time in your life when you thought you were?

CR: No, no, no. Not once.

MS: Yeah.

CR: I mean, it’s never – But I don’t know how it’d be if I was desperate. I mean, I’ve been dependent on something.

MS: Yeah.

CR: Or never been – You know, I’ve had compared to almost everybody a generous life.

MS: Yeah.

CR: You know, so I can’t know that I’ve had pain that other people have had. And I don’t know how I would deal with those kinds of things.

MS: I like the way you said that. That’s a beautiful phrasing.

CR: You know?

MS: I should write that down. Maybe I can put it into a song. [Charlie hands him a piece of paper] Thank you. And this is how it happens.”

To this day, I have no idea if the phrase “generous life” ended up in a song anywhere. It may have.

I return to this exchange because of that phrase.

What does it mean to have lived or live a generous life? It’s easy to think of things as difficult, as challenging and even rewarding, but hard sometimes to find what about our day to day is generous.

But when you step outside yourself for a minute and really look at how your day, your month, your year and your time on this planet has resolved, its pretty easy to see how the generosity inherent to being on this planet, of being afforded the opportunity to experience its ups and downs, outweighs the triviality of the mundane and challenging.

And I know this is sentimental schmaltz because I’m travelling, and sleep deprived, but today, in an airport, working on things I love with people I respect and a family who cares about my grumpy self, I can’t help but feel like my life has been generous.

Sometimes its helpful when the act of chronologically living is more burdensome than the culmination of life, to remember what aspects of life have been generously given to us, and return that with our impact on the world.


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