Patti Digh looks around each day and sees people who are overbooked, stressed out, tired and argumentative. But underneath it all, she says they yearn to live a more meaningful life.
Perhaps that is why she has had such a big response to her blog, "37 days," and to the 2008 book it spawned, "Life Is a Verb: 37 Days to Wake Up, Be Mindful, and Live Intentionally."
The title comes from the fact that her stepfather lived for only 37 days after he was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2003. She began to wonder, "What would I be doing today if I had 37 days to live?"
The answer, she said, was to realize that, "I wanted to live a life so when I got to day one (of the 37), I would be able to wake up and say, 'I'm living the life that I had wanted to be living all along.' "
Two years after her stepfather died, she began her "37 days" blog so she could tell stories that she someday could leave behind for her daughters, Emma and Tess. Within six months, she said, the blog had acquired 15,000 readers from all over the world.
Some of her stories came from her girls themselves.
When her daughter, Tess, was young, she said, nothing excited her more than to see a bus. "She was like someone with short-term memory loss, because every time, she'd say, 'Wow, a bus!' And since Tess had a penetrating voice, everyone else knew it, too."
Digh said it got her to wondering what would happen if everyone could greet life with such enthusiasm.
"What if we said, 'Wow, a meeting! Lookee, an insanely long and completely inane meeting! A report due tomorrow, a mortgage payment -- wow! What would life be like if we actually approached it that way?"
To give her stories some framework for the book, Digh came up with six "simple practices" that she thought could make everyone's life more meaningful, day by day: Say yes, be generous, love more, trust ourselves, speak up and slow down.
We all have routines or practices, she said, and they don't always make sense, such as the time she and a friend went into a bookstore cafe at midafternoon to get a snack.
She asked the clerk for toast.
"He said, 'I don't think that's possible. It's past toast time.' I said, 'Really? In my world, if you have a toaster and bread, it's pretty much always toast time.' "
For her practices she tried to come up with ways to "make minuscule life corrections that result in quantum shifts in experience."
She defined the practice of being generous as "holding open space for people to be as fully human as we are." Her example: When she was a manager of a large organization in Washington, D.C. several years ago, a woman named Dolores who was a typesetter there died at 53 of a heart attack.
When Digh went to the funeral, she said, 14 gospel choirs came down the aisle of the church. She learned that Dolores had started them all.
"Dolores had never been invited to be on our organization's task forces or committees. She was 'just' a typesetter. After that funeral, I thought, 'I worked with this woman for 20 years, and I never even knew she sang.' And then I thought, 'Because she was in the box marked 'typesetter' on our organizational chart, what skills of hers did we never tap into or ask about?' "