Measuring A Life
Visited the graves of my parents today. Bouncing around in my head was a question one of my kids had asked: “I’m turning 30 and what have I done with my life?”
Try turning 60 and having the same question.
My mom and dad passed on at 75 and 83, having lived lives that were, in my eyes, full of achievement, and yet I wonder if they ever asked themselves what they had really done.
How do we measure a life? In terms of power, prestige or possessions? Hell, yeah! Don’t you want to be able to simply look at a guy and have him shrink in fear into nothingness? Aren’t you willing to do anything to amass more power than you have the competence to wield? You drool over that low numbered license plate. You want a yacht. You want another yacht. But that can’t be right, can it? When it comes right down to it, measuring a life in terms of power, prestige and possessions is no less idiotic than measuring your whole goddamn existence on the basis of Likes, Views and Shares.
I wasted so much energy hating this one person for nearly twenty years. Yesterday, I decided to forgive him. Who knows why things happen? I was home alone on a Sunday, and decided to go to Mass. I didn’t have to. If I didn’t, who would have known? But I went. And Father Rene made a strong case for forgiveness in his homily. I’m sorry but I can’t remember what he said. He had a quote in there from St. Augustine, but I’ve Googled and Googled and Googled and can’t find it. The point is: I suddenly felt ready to forgive.
I won’t recount what this guy did so many years ago. The mere thought of putting it down in writing, of framing it in a way that would make readers understand the gravity of the offense, is weakening my resolve to forgive. Suffice it to say that I won’t retell the story but I won’t forget it either.
This is not the first time I’ve told myself that I forgive him, but it in the past I always harbored a little hope that God or karma would work some kind of vengeance on my behalf. This time, however, I’m letting go of that little kernel that wants retribution.
It’s a little late in the day, but I’ve finally realized that I’d rather not measure my life in terms of what could have been.
When I was in my early thirties, we had a motivational speaker come to the office who asked us how we wanted to be remembered. He said, Imagine yourself at your own funeral with people peering down at you in your coffin, and you can hear them talking about you. What are they saying? What do you want them to say?
One person, wiser than I give her credit for, answered without any hesitation, “I hope they say ‘She took good care of her people.’ That’s all.”
I guess there’s a question of who ‘your people’ are. Who have you taken responsibility for? Whose lives do you have stewardship over, whether you like it or not? Certainly, your family. Maybe your friends, too. Definitely your staff is part of Your People. The people in your neighborhood could also be. If you are a high government official, then the Filipino People.
But who is to say that any group, large or small, has more value than any other? The word that conveys a measurement—good—describes the care, not the people.
I know it’s a gross oversimplification. And yet, by this simple standard, how many of us would get a passing grade? Not me.
Implicit in the judgment that “she took good care of her people” is a value system that puts the welfare of others above one’s own self-interest. There is an admonition to live for others, to stand with others, to aspire not only for Honor and Excellence but to dedicate these qualities to the Service of others.
Fortunately, I still have time.
There lie the lessons for the day. People ought to take good care of each other. Forgive the injuries in the past that are holding you back. For as long as you keep moving forward, no measurement of your life is final.
I should leave the preaching to priests . . . and university professors.
Like my parents. Good job, Dad and Mom.