Over the past year I have had a blank page in my idea notebook labeled with a simple two-word title, “my obituary.” At diagnosis, my doctor had indicated that it would be wise to get my affairs in order. Somehow, every time I think of that term it is accompanied by an English accent. It feels rather formal and complicated. I suppose it is. There is the business of dying that most of us don’t want to think about, and yet, confronting my mortality meant that I needed to do just that.
I made list of my jewelry, carefully assigning each to a particular recipient. I told my family where to find my updated will. I began writing letters to my loved ones to be opened when I was gone and added random thoughts to my leather-bound journal. I organized my sock drawer. I even tried to clean out the attic, but after considering how monumental a task it would be, figured that my family and friends would have to lead that charge, laughing at some of the crazy things I had chosen to keep.
The obituary page remained blank.
But it was a project that I felt compelled to do. Somehow, writing my own exit scene was empowering, but it proved to be much too difficult. At first, I thought that my hesitation came from the fact that penning it would have been akin to admitting defeat, and I had no intention of giving up, resigning myself to death. But as I thought of it later, I realized that somehow the mental list of dates and places of how and where I had lived my life were resume virtues, the career I had pursued, the skills I thought I had developed. It seemed rather shallow to me, much like those bragging posts made on social media.
Let’s face it: we have been taught to be goal-oriented, to strive for achievement. From a young age, we learn that our “do” is often more important that our “who.” But ultimately, this is never satisfying since there is always some new professional prize to be won. None of us ever attain our definition of complete success.
And so, my thoughts shifted to my eulogy virtues, the kind that are mentioned at your funeral. I questioned what they might be, what existed at the very essence of who I was. Had I been kind, brave, honest, loyal? Had I honored the important relationships I had developed? Had I given enough of myself to help others? Did I radiate an inner light or was I incandescently mediocre? What kind of life had I truly lived?
We know that folks are quick to brag about specialized success, lining up to pay good money for training on how to earn more, have more, be more. But few of us stop to think of how we would define our character once we are out of the church house doors. We figure as long as we aren’t hurting anybody, we are living a good life. But there is more. Much more.
Certainly, one side of us wants to conquer the world while the other hopes to save it. But getting to either place requires effort and energy. Building a decent resume of eulogy virtues is a life-long task, guided by experience, the great teacher. Living brings us new opportunities to develop our spiritual muscle. When we honor the truth, we grow, even if the truth is difficult. As a result, we may become a little ragged, rough from the wear and tear of the daily grind as we bear the scars of this earthly existence. But this leads to greater understanding of ourselves and others. Over time, we must dig deep and heal those hurts, which requires a journey into our own hearts, an examination of our own souls. We learn our limitations, striving to be better in spite of them. We make the choice to hold our heads up and smile. Ultimately, we keep on trying and caring and loving, and as a result, develop empathy.