August 4, 2011 by rebelwithalabelmaker
I am a big fan of Stephen Covey (7 habits of highly effective people). One of the Great Habits is "begin with the end in mind". He has you write your own Eulogy, to focus you on what you want out of life. Or if you're squeamish, you can write own toast for your 70th birthday party at which you are to presume you will not be dead.
It's a neat exercise to try. Problem is, for the hummingbirdbrained (who need to begin with the end in mind but also need help narrowing down the "end") you end up with something like this:
She loved well loved by everyone she left behind, including a partner, two kids, a dog, extended family, many friends, and a church community of which she was a valued member and chaired at least two committees per year. She is also remembered with deep respect by her colleagues who worked with her in microbiology research towards curing cancer, as well as the members of the environmental society where she volunteered as president of the board during her spare time. Those who visited her will remember her immaculately decorated and welcoming home where she served only home cooked organic cuisine from within a 100 mile radius of her city. While there, you might be invited to join her in her painting studio, or do yoga with her—a favorite hobby which allowed her to combine her spiritual development with her commitment to exceptional health. She was an excellent multi-tasker. She was well read, very patient, and a good listener. She always had time for everyone—something she managed to accomplish through practicing exceptional self care. Also, she recycled and reused everything—she would never throw anything away that could be repaired but she was very disciplined so this never translated into a cluttered garage. She played the cello really well. And also played ultimate frizbee—but only on weeknights since weekends were reserved for family because she had exceptional boundaries. And she never forgot to flip the mattresses.
In a cemetery once, an old one in New England, I found a strangely soothing epitaph. The name of the deceased and her dates had been scoured away by wind and rain, but there was a carving of a tree with roots and branches (a classic nineteenth-century motif) and among them the words, "She attended well and faithfully to a few worthy things." At first this seemed to me a little meager, a little stingy on the part of her survivors, but I wrote it down and have thought about it since, and now I can't imagine a more proud or satisfying legacy. Every day I stand in danger of being struck by lightning and having the obituary in the local paper say, for all the world to see, "She attended frantically and ineffectually to a great many unimportant, meaningless details.”
The close relative of the Epitaph, for those who don’t like to envision their own tombstone, is the six word story. A format made popular by a contest at Smith Magazine, there is a whole book of “six word memoirs”, such as:
Supported the sublime with uncurbed enthusiasm.
I grew and grew and grew.
I lost god. I found myself.
Still lost on road less travelled.
The beauty of a six word memoir is that it has a future. There is another chapter to the story. While some of the stories focus on the past, some elude to a transformation—a recent one that is yet to bear fruit, or something just around the bend:
Followed rules, not dreams. Never again.
Verbal hemophilia. Why can’t I clot?
Time to start over again, again.
Older now, I draw myself better.
Some tell the story of flaws—often with a poingancy that shows a kind of acceptance and brings out our sympathy:
Learned reading, writing… forgot arithmetic.
Anything is possible—but I was tired.
Lucky in love, unlucky in metabolism.
I live the perfect imperfect life.
Arthur-ectomy taking years. Beware! Wed cautiously.