What makes a good life, Uncle Len?
Updated: May 3
A good teacher is hard to find.
People of all generations and times have travelled far and wide just to spend time with a good teacher.
In many traditions, just to be physically close to great teachers is in and of itself a learning.
A couple of years ago, I was sipping a coffee in the company of a father-figure who was approaching 100 years old: my Uncle Len.
I consider Uncle Len one of my greatest, most important teachers.
Known to so many in the communities he lived among as 'Grandad', he will always be Uncle Len to me.
He was born in the 1920's - a time we will never quite be able to know like he did, especially now that most of this generation has passed on.
He was of an ilk who were frugal, determined, and steady: and very much toughened up by the effects of war.
And I asked him:
'What makes a good life?'
He gave the question some thought for a moment. He sipped a little coffee. Mulled it over. Then he looked at me, and said three things:
"Keep things simple."
"Know what you like."
"Let love happen."
They were simple enough to take in and remember, and I've recalled them easily ever since.
But as I was writing this article, it became more and more apparent how much wisdom and elegance was packed inside these three things.
They are like a little roadmap for a life well lived:
1. 'Keep things simple'
Uncle Len's key approach was that less is usually more than enough: physically, and mentally.
In his physical space, he had just a couple of pairs of everything - nothing fancy, or over the top.
But in the mental side of things too, he also kept things simple.
He bore no grudges against anyone.
He didn't overthink things.
He had a healthy outlook on life that allowed him to have deep tolerance and a forgiving temperament towards others.
Instead of immediately sharing an opinion, he'd usually listen first and then say, 'Okay. Okay.’ A simple word, that bought him time to think, yet showed the other person he was acknowledging what they were saying.
What beautifully simple ways to keep things simple.
Uncle Len never rejected or pushed people out, he rather just let them be: a simple attitude of 'live, and let live’.
2. 'Know what you like'
'I am a creature of habit', Uncle Len would say.
He would choose the same places to visit, the same coffee to drink, they same people to sit with, the same brand of shoes to buy, say the same catch-phrases, the same, the same, the same, over and over.
He would, of course, occasionally venture out to new or unusual places or destinations.
But time and time again he would spend time on the same hobbies and activities, and he would master them, doing them over and over.
The point was, he liked his life.
For me, 'Know what you like', is not just about knowing the habits or hobbies you like to do.
Even though though that is an important part of life.
But Uncle Len showed me how important it is to understand yourself and your core values.
To know what you really like to do and how you really like to be.
Simple, yet profound.
3. 'Let love happen'
There are so many things that sap our time, our energy, our focus.
There are also a great many blocks that prevent us from doing what we'd love to.
Sometimes those blocks are in our mind, sometimes in our environment, and more often than not, they are in our heart.
Often, of all the things we know deep down that we really love, we hold ourselves back from doing, having or being.
We don't let love happen at all.
So this may be the most important part of his advice:
To take all the things we truly love to do, be and feel, and to make space for them - to allow them to happen.
Somehow, they show you what you need to learn at any given time.
And Uncle Len was no doubt one of the most remarkable teachers I have ever known.
His three pieces of sage advice are like a little roadmap for life:
Simplify things. Be aware of what you truly enjoy. Allow it all to happen.
Or, in his very own words:
"Keep it simple, know what you like, and let love happen, Sunny Jim."
Thank you, Uncle Len.
P.S. A little lighthearted banter - as Uncle Len would always want - below is a sketch I drew capturing one of his most famous catchphrases.
He used this line generously with waitresses in the coffee shops around Dubai that he frequented. 🤦🏽♀️
A charmer, through and through. 😉
🎁🎄Though I do not observe Christmas from a religious standpoint, to paraphrase Butch Ware, a great #professor of history who I enjoy #learning from, I believe that embracing our common humanity & respecting #faith, even if we do not share it, is a loving and kind thing to do, and that we should always wish each other well. 🕯
Growing up, I often joined in with festivities with my loved ones who are Christian, particularly food related traditions. Yorkshire puddings are my absolute favourite food in the whole world, and to this day, I am happy these traditions continue in my life.
However, today, I didn’t have Christmas lunch or dinner with #UncleLen.
He passed away the year before, and today, on Christmas day especially, he is so missed.
I know that many others approach festive seasons with a mixture of emotions, not always joyous. I know that there are those of you who are missing a loved one too. I wish you ease and relief. I always feel the most important and loving thing we can do, is to remember them. 💛
So in honour of Uncle Len, and in keeping with the spirit of giving, I share here something I wrote shortly after his passing. I consider it a gift he gave to me, that I am able to share with you here - his simple, wise and elegant answer to my question:
"What makes a good life, Uncle Len?"
I hope you enjoy the read. Happy Christmas ✨🎄🎁