All That You Can’t Leave Behind


Imagine this:

Bones tired and muscles thin, you lie buried deep within sheets, blankets, pillows. You can barely hear the steady beeping of the IV monitor or the constant ticking of the clock over the doorway, but it doesn’t matter anymore. You stopped hearing nuances long ago. Your hands, spotted with springs and summers, don’t move much now. They ache, but they throb less in the hands of loved ones, eyes all the same shade as your own. Yours are milkier than ever these days. Your eyelids weigh heavy, eyelashes long gone, and you glimpse worried expressions, lips puckering to brush color on your cheeks, forehead, thinning white hair. And someone whispers, “Goodnight.”

It’ll happen to every single one of us.

In our final moments, however coherent, we’ll hold still, still for the first time in our lives, and watch the stories of our lives play out, projected against the white sheet of memory. We’ll either smile or shake off tears. And then we’ll pack our bags.

Full of all the things we cannot leave behind.

I’m not talking your desert island essentials. Leave those packed, leave those behind.

I’m talking eternity, forever, the gauzy curtain between this life and the next.

Regardless of what you believe about eternity, what can’t you afford to leave behind?


In the words of U2’s “Walk On:”

Leave it behind

You’ve got to leave it behind

All that you fashion

All that you make

All that you build

All that you break

All that you measure

All that you steal

All this you can leave behind


If you’re honest, this hits a little close to home.

Because it’s what we hold to as creatives. We fashion, we make, we build day after day. We spend hours alone, warding off family, friends, phone calls in our pursuit of art.

This should make us squirm. After all, we consider it our identity. We don’t respond with “lover,” “father,” “loyal friend” at parties when new faces ask what we do.

No. We say, “I’m a writer,” “I’m a photographer,” “I’m a brilliant entrepreneur.” And we hope a little mystery clings to our titles.

But what’s the point?

What’s the point to all our hours spent on projects that will ultimately mean less in our final moments?


Art is fleeting and prone to decay, like our own fragile bodies.

In the end when we can barely hold pencils in our arthritic fingers, all we’ll cling to is love, grace, and the mystery of it all.

And so we’ll leave our art behind.

Because the real power lies within the reader, the admirer, the recipient.

It’s what happens when our art touches the hearts of the audience.

Real art points not to the author, the creator, but to something greater, something bigger than us all.

As artists we recognize that human beings are the true masterpieces in this world. Our emotions, gestures, voices, and age-lined faces.

Art is the exact moment words, brushstrokes, notes collide with our souls and ignite us with purpose, fill us with meaning.

And art is what we do with those moments of collision. Whether we kiss the man, woman beside us, whether we run our fingers through our children’s hair, whether we hold eye contact with the next stranger and smile. A smile that reaches our eyes.

Whether we start something big, whether we change something small.

This is all that you can’t leave behind.