Only 3 Things Matter…

Bhutan prayer wheel
Nobody talks about letting go. The focus throughout my education and career had been on accumulation—of knowledge, friends, influence, material well-being. Then I came across the following quote. “In the end, only 3 things matter: how well you have loved, how well you have lived, and how well you have learned to let go.” I was in the middle of turning the presidency of Sokol Blosser Winery over to my children, and hit hard with the realization that letting go of control was far more difficult than anticipated. The quote hit home and triggered so much thought and soul searching that I included it in my book with the same title, Letting Go.

More recently, a friend sent me a slightly different version of the quote. “In the end, only 3 things matter: how much you loved, how gently you lived, and how gracefully you let go of things not meant for you.” The slight change in words gave each instance more nuanced significance. Here’s what I mean.

Like a muscle, love grows stronger when exercised. One’s capacity for love grows the more one loves. The word “much” instead of “well” suggests the strength and breadth of love rather than the depth. One could have great depth of love for one person and not care a whit for anyone else. How much suggests love as a broad base for action.

Living “gently” suggests concern, gratitude, humility. Living gently implies treading lightly on the earth. A sense of one’s impermanence and insignificance in the natural world. “Well” connotes decently pleasantly, ably and, while important, “gently” improves on these by adding compassion.

Grace is a profound virtue. Where well implies skill, grace implies finesse and equanimity, qualities beyond competence. Knowing when to let go and doing it with grace are important skills at any age. They take on more significance the older one gets. Letting go could be sending a child off to kindergarten or even college. It could be stepping back from a long career. Each step back requires a readjustment in who you are, even a reinvention if your identity was defined by what you just let go of. Doing this not only well, but with grace, would be the highest blessing.

I agree that these are the 3 things that matter. The more nuanced version of the quote makes it even more meaningful.

Men in the Kitchen


Both my sons are great cooks and regularly cook family meals. They have favorite cookbooks and recipes. This is a far cry from the role my father played when I was growing up. My father, a successful business owner, a man of vision and strategy, was totally helpless in the kitchen. He never cooked a meal in his life. The one time he tried became family legend.

I grew up in Wisconsin in the 1950’s, the Ozzie and Harriet era when men went to work and middle class women stayed home to take care of the house and children. Big name restaurant chefs were all men, but household cooking was women’s domain. My father usually read the evening paper with a glass of wine while mama made dinner. She told me once that her father, an early 1900’s physician, loved to cook but was embarrassed to let anyone know. He would create something delicious in the kitchen and credit his wife when it was served. We can laugh now at the idea of being a “closet chef,” but in her day it was real.

Back to my father. One day, so the story goes, mama wasn’t feeling well and daddy told her to stay in bed and rest. He assured her that, even though he’d never done it before, he could certainly make his own breakfast—eggs, toast, and orange juice. Mama did it with such ease, how hard could it be?

The truth was he had no idea how to make his normal soft boiled eggs. I never saw him even boil water. He decided it would be easier to fry them. He turned on a burner and cracked his two eggs directly into the stainless steel pan. While they were cooking, he took out a can of frozen orange juice concentrate from the freezer and put it and the three cans of water in the blender, having seen his wife do the same thing many times. However, he must not have seen her then put the top on the blender as he omitted that step. The juice may not have reached the ceiling when he turned on the blender, but it spurted out like a geyser and covered the surrounding counter and floor.

His piece of toast got stuck in the toaster so he turned the appliance upside down, shaking the toaster to get it out. The blackened toast appeared, along with a mass of crumbs from previous toastings. By now the eggs, glued to the pan, looked ready to eat. He finally sat down to his homemade breakfast of overcooked egg, burned toast, and half mixed frozen orange juice. As it was getting late, he left everything as it was and left for work.

A short time later mama got herself up and came down the stairs. When she entered the kitchen, she must have gasped at the sight. The blender sat half full of juice while more oozed down the sides and over the counter. Her slippers stuck to the floor where the orange juice had sprayed. The fry pan sat on the stove, with burned egg covering the surface. The breakfast plate, with the remains of daddy’s first and only cooking adventure, sat on the table.

From then on, if daddy threatened to make his own breakfast, mama was up in a flash. She never let him cook anything again, regarding him as totally incompetent in the kitchen. Daddy, on the other hand, liked to refer to his cooking attempt as creative incompetence.

Rethinking Our Founding Fathers


Hamilton Playbill

I was lucky enough to see the musical Hamilton on Broadway in New York. I have always loved history and was a history major in college. But this portrayal, of events from a period I thought I knew, was a revelation. Let me explain.
If asked for a short list of Founding Fathers of the United States, I immediately think of George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and John Adams, our first 3 presidents, and James Madison, considered the brains behind the Federalist Papers. Alexander Hamilton would be included, but almost as an afterthought. He didn’t have as much influence as Thomas Jefferson, who had always been my hero. Hamilton was a second tier Founding Father.
But if art can influence history, the hip-hop musical Hamilton, based on the book of the same name by Ron Chernow, will upend convention and recognize the immense influence Alexander Hamilton had on history.
Hamilton was George Washington’s right hand man and confidant or most of the Revolution until, towards the end, he got a command of his own, making him the only Founding Father, other than Washington, to actually fight in the war. He wrote most of the Federalist Papers, far more than James Madison, to explain the wisdom behind creating a new government. He agitated tirelessly for ratification of the Constitution and a strong central government, and this is where the rebels broke apart. Jefferson and Madison, large landholders in one of the wealthier states, opposed him, arguing for individual state supremacy. the inside story of that battle never made the history books. In his role as Secretary of the Treasury for President Washington, Hamilton stabilized the new country’s credit and finances with a structure that continues today. In his time he was charismatic, powerful, and controversial.
The musical is extraordinary as a theater production. I’m not a fan of hip hop, but the music here is so compelling, I bought the soundtrack and play it regularly. Ben Brantley, the New York Times reviewer, on August 6th, 2015 lauded the production “as proof that the American musical is not only surviving but also evolving….”
But the real thrill of Hamilton is how it brings history alive. Alexander Hamilton did much in his short life to put the United States on the road to greatness. At every step, he was hotly contested, often by those who had previously been friends who had opposing political views. The musical follows Chernow’s book in revealing the dynamic tension between the Founding Fathers. As Brantley observes, history is the center of the show and it’s history as we never saw it. Our history books, buttressed by paintings made later in life, portrayed the Founding Fathers as thoughtful, dignified, staid, and bordering on stodgy. Hamilton reminds us that before they were consigned to history as our Founding Fathers, they were rebellious youth, fired up with political fervor, moving to a pulsating, liberating beat that the hip hop music perfectly captures.