There is a shape to every life—a specific, precise, never to be repeated space that it occupies for as long as it is here. From the very moment that life arrives, it begins altering the planet, renovating it by its unique presence.
And when a life leaves this place, whether quietly or with great fanfare, that shape becomes a negative space; an unprecedented void that cannot be fully occupied again by another. It will remain forever unfilled, this extraordinary space in the shape of a life.
But each life’s shape is not defined only by the life itself, but by every soul it comes into contact with while here. As that life is welcomed, loved, nurtured, cared for—it expands and contracts, it grows and stretches to find its beautiful definition, and likewise so does everything else around it:
A mother is herself reshaped as she raises her son.
A man is reshaped by a lifelong friendship.
Spouses are reshaped daily over the course of a marriage.
We are reshaped as we live alongside people we love,
and by strangers we view from a distance.
Like pieces to a puzzle, we are fit into one another; those we know and those we are connected to only as part of the same whole. We are being added to and subtracted from as our lives rub up against one another.
What this means, is that we should grieve the loss of every life, whether we believe it to be close to us or not, because we know that someone, somewhere is mourning over the space its absence has created. The shape of that life matters to them and it should matter to us because we will feel that subtraction even if we are unaware.
And it means we should celebrate every life with equal fervor:
A 9-month old in Syria has a sacred shape.
An elderly man in West Africa does.
A teenager in Chicago.
A father in Mexico.
The woman sitting across from you in traffic.
The toddler in your living room.
And remembering the shape of a life should also mean that regardless of how inconsequential or meaningless you may feel at times, you should treasure your own life far more than you usually do. You should have reverence for yourself because you are consequential and you are meaningful, and because the shape of your life is a singular miracle in the history of the planet. And whether or not you believe it, when you depart this place, you will leave a space that will never again be filled. The face staring back at you in the mirror is so very uniquely shaped.
My childhood friend Terry left the world when he was 23. For whatever reason he believed he could no longer stay here or that he was no longer needed. I wish he would have realized, that more than three decades later the space he left in the shape of his life would still be a hollow in the hearts of so many people, including me. It may not have made a difference, but I like to think so.
Lives are specifically miraculous things, and if we truly recognized that we’d probably live differently. We might have more compassion for people, we might be more burdened with other’s pain, we might find more gratitude for ourselves, we might experience joy in simply living as we are shaped. These would all be worthy endeavors.
So look around you today, friend. See the strangers you pass by, look at the pictures of children a half a world away, stare into the eyes of your daughter, and yes take a long, careful look in the mirror.
Take a moment to see, to mourn, to treasure, and to celebrate—the shape of a life.