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Thursday, February 24, 2011

Mary Anne Radmacher: Frankie's Story (The origin of Live With Intention)

The following is Mary Anne Radmacher's story of how she came to compose her famous Live With Intention quote. This story is taken from Mary Anne's first Conari Press book Lean Forward Into Your Life.


Frankie's Story (The origin of Live With Intention)
by Mary Anne Radmacher

After being in town a few short weeks, it seemed like Frankie had been in the community for a long time. As if she were exactly where she belonged. And she would tell anybody she was.

A mother who adored her grown children who had children of their own, she was ready for a different kind of life. A lighter life. Without so much “stuff” and only obligations that she would choose, even on a sunny day. This is the life she had created for herself in this small seaside community.

I enjoyed a connection with Frankie. While we were decades apart, we shared some fundamental views, among them, a commitment to the environment. When I started working on energy alternatives as a means to oppose oil leases off the coasts of Oregon and Washington, Frankie jumped right in. She loved that I was working to create solutions, not simply saying no to oil development off our coast. We worked together as volunteers for several years.

Frankie was a remarkable asset in any meeting. She listened attentively, and when she spoke, it was to say the hard thing. She let other people say the easy things. She saved her voice for the truths that everyone knew but didn’t have the nerve to say. Frankie was never short on nerve. When I’d thank her she’d brush it off and just say, “Ah, the truth is the truth. Some folks just have a hard time wrapping their lips around it.”

Not Frankie.

That is, not until the truth was about her health.

She started missing meetings, making commitments to activities and then not showing up. I called her because this was not her style and I was suspicious. She brushed off the concern saying she was just tired. I pressed her and continued to press until she finally went to the doctor.

In a playful but dreadfully dark way Frankie let me know she’d never be taking my advice again. If I hadn’t forced her to see a doctor she’d be blissfully waking to happy days. But since I’d sent her into the arms of medical bad news, now she had six months, maybe, to live -- and pancreatic cancer to deal with. “No more insistent suggestions from you!”

Awful. Awful news. Well, as testing progressed the news got worse. Frankie was now speaking of weeks, not months. Characteristic of her philosophy of retired life, she wanted to die simply, without a lot of stuff and only obligations to which she was most committed. She gathered a rather small circle of associates. I was among them. She laid down the rules in her fashion -- truthfully and without qualification. She had just a few rules:

“One. No assholes allowed. I’ve put up with them all my life. Now that I’m dying, I don’t have to. So if somebody comes and they’re an asshole, I’m not spending my dying breath on them. You can tell them anything you want. Just don’t bring them to me.

“Two. I get to listen to whatever I want. That means the music I want. Or quiet. And when I want to listen to quiet it means I don’t want to talk to you, either. Nothing personal; I just want quiet.

“Three. I get to eat whatever I want. If I want it and we don’t have it -- you’ll do your best to get it. If you can’t, I’ll understand. But I’d love for you to try. And, also, if I don’t want to eat, you won’t make me. None of the ‘it’s good for you’ business. I’m telling you right now what’s good for me.”

People could sign on under Frankie’s rules or not. She made it very clear it was her party. I was in the rotation several times in those last days. Toward the end I had to lie close to Frankie because she had little breath to put behind her words. Mostly she talked and I listened.

She asked me to promise her something. She said she knew I’d keep writing and sharing my thoughts with the world. She asked me to remind people of something they should know but kept forgetting. And, while I initially disagreed with Frankie’s advice, I came to understand the spirit of it: I can either direct the winds of my history to blow and fill my sails toward a certain course -- or, I can allow it to just steer me all over the map. I came to realize that Frankie was suggesting that we can negotiate with our history; come to a creative agreement and then move on with our lives, trimming our own sails in a chosen direction.

Frankie believed that we’re responsible for our own memories. That responsibility goes in two ways. First, if you had a childhood for which you did not much care ... MAKE UP a new one. That’s why you have an imagination. Just tell yourself a new story -- a story that keeps you from living in the past and being bitter. Do what it takes to be happy with your history. And secondly, be responsible today for the history you are creating. Ask yourself how it is you want to remember this specific thing and then do your best to bring about those memories. In a great difficulty or a perplexing moment, it’s a tool of perspective to pause and ask yourself, “How do I want to remember this?” It sings of personal responsibility and the kind of accountability that makes a big person.

I told Frankie I would do it. That I would remind people as often as I had the opportunity. And I have with City Year in Little Rock, Arkansas, a volunteer domestic service program started by President Clinton, as well as with computer marketing professionals in Portland, Oregon, and folks in every spot I’ve visited and given a speech. Now, I’m telling you the story. I promised and I’ve kept my promise. And in tough spots I clarify for myself by asking, “How is it I would most like to remember this?”

On the day of Frankie’s memorial service, much of that small community shut down. I had my memorial service right next to Frankie and her failing breath. The day of her service I stayed home and memorialized her in my own way. Yes, I cried. And yes, I asked myself how I would like to remember the day of her memorial. I wanted to define the lessons I’d learned by living by Frankie as she died. That day I wrote the text, which has grown into the version that I use today. I wrote:

live with intention.
walk to the edge.
listen hard.
laugh.
play with abandon.
practice wellness.
continue to learn.
appreciate your friends.
choose with no regret.
do what you love.
live as if this is all there is.

She did. And I aspire to.







Buy your copy of Mary Anne's new book
Live with Intention: Rediscovering What We Deeply Know.

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