The purpose of life

In the past month, many friends have died. Loss is both painful and joyful. It is painful to say goodbye to someone with whom we have a beloved history. There is joy in the midst of the loss as we see how this person has positively influenced our life and the lives of others. 
This past Friday evening and Saturday morning I attended the wake and funeral of my friend Walt. He was a kind and gentle man. He was a man of few words which were always spoken in a humble, loving manner. He greeted everyone with a warm hug. This ex-Marine was a man who served other people in a caring and welcoming manner. We belonged to the same sharing community of men and women who meet to share our goals, ideals, and spiritual journey. At our gatherings Walt would be there to help in a humble manner, make coffee, express a gentle word of kindness to someone new to the group. There was no ego in this humble man who never sought applause or attention. 
At his wake we reminisced, shed tears and stories about how this kind and gentle man had positively affected all of us. I remember a story about St. Francis of Assisi that I had read many years ago when I was a Capuchin-Franciscan. It was about a new member to the new Order of Franciscan Friars in the 13th century. The Friars were all sleeping in their monastery after having worked and preached and fasted most of the day. A new member woke up in the middle of the night crying and hungry. St. Francis of Assisi arose, went and found the new member and brought him to the kitchen where they had something to eat together. Francis didn’t say, “Get a grip on it. This is a hard life. Don’t wake up the other friars who worked hard all day.” No. He just sat down and ate with this young man, breaking the fast with him and gently breaking bread together. Love and kindness came before any words or admonitions. I never forgot that story and it came to mind as I sat at the wake because this was Walt. I again realized that the purpose of a life is not how famous we become in the eyes of others. It is not the great wisdom we impart by our words. It is the humble and kind love we give to other people. Meeting his sweet wife at the wake, I was also impressed that she had the same kindness and gentleness as Walt. This man positively influenced many people simply by his kind, gentle presence. He was a man who was often in deep emotional pain but continued to embrace everyone with warmth and kindness by his hugs and acts of kindness. 

At funerals we are filled with many nuances of feelings. I was positively overwhelmed with the feeling that when it comes time for me to transition to the next life and I enter that Promised Land of Joy, Walt will be there to greet me with a hug and welcome me. I have been to many funerals in my life. I am sure you have also. This time it became very real to me that a kind and loving person will be there to greet me. This will happen to all of us and many of us have had feelings like this before. So I asked myself: Why at this funeral am I feeling this way? Walt and I did not share that much about our lives with each other. We didn’t really socialize outside of our community gatherings. Why am I having such a positive, strong feeling about the next life and being greeted by this kind man?

Then it hit me almost like a beam of warm light surrounding me. Seeing this man for many years so consistently being kind, gentle and loving even in the midst of the great pain he experienced had given me in an almost unconscious manner what the purpose of this life really is: to humbly bring kindness and compassion to everyone I meet. He also in an unconscious manner gave me an inspiring example of what God must be like. Warm, kind and compassionate and welcoming. The greatest psychology, theology and philosophy come to us in humble and gentle people. 

We influence people by our kind and loving words and actions. Look over your life and you will remember the loving, gentle, humble and kind actions of other people toward you. It is not the wisdom of what people say to us but it is the love they express to us with their actions and words. We don’t remember words but we remember the love expressed in how the words are said to us. We remember the actions so well when they come to us wrapped in humility and gentleness. 


Fred Cavaiani is a licensed marriage counselor and psychologist with a private practice in Troy. He is the founder of Marriage Growth Center, a consultant for the Detroit Medical Center, and conducts numerous programs for groups throughout Southeast Michigan. His column in the Legal News runs every other Tuesday. He can be reached at (248)362-3340. His e-mail address is: and his website is



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