The Final Word
We are all going to die.
I am reminding you of this not to make you sad and to ruin your day, but to inspire you and to make sure that you are living the way that you want to and the way that you should.
“Our lives teach us who we are.” (Salman Rushdie)
While reading Mitch Albom’s 2009 book, Have a Little Faith, I was struck by a conversation that the author had with his rabbi, Albert Lewis. This true story started with his religious leader’s request to give his eulogy when he died. Part of the story spans eight years and the events start with Mitch’s reminiscence of his interaction as a young boy with “the most pious man” he knew to his final conversations with his friend and the eventual delivery of the eulogy.
“The Reb”, as Mr. Albom fondly refers to him, is asked about his vast experience of ministering and specifically about what people fear the most about death. He responds with the common concern about the “next stage”, but then he follows it up with the fear of “the second death”. Just like the author, I was confused at first by this expression and I quickly read on for an explanation.
In his answer, the rabbi quotes Thomas Hardy’s poem about a man who is walking in a cemetery and speaking about the dead:
They count as quite forgot,
They are as men who have exited not,
Theirs is a loss past loss of fitful breath
It is the second death.
The rabbi goes on to explain that the “second death” is the act of being forgotten and the only short-term fix is our family and the memories that we create with them.
Wow! I never thought about that but it sure made sense to me. Observing rows of headstones in local cemeteries, I often wonder how many are regularly visited and have flowers placed in front of them. When do people stop coming?
And then it struck me. How do I want to be remembered? How long might I be remembered? How many generations will know about me after I am gone? Can I put off the “second death”? I started to get concerned.
Let’s face it; we all want to think that our lives matter. We all want to be noticed at some point in our existence for something. True, some more than others. Celebrities seem to seek out the limelight and enjoy seeing themselves constantly on TV and in print. While at the other end of the spectrum, the late Mother Teresa quietly and humbly ministered to the poor and led others to follow her footsteps through her Missionaries of Charity. But I do believe that each one of us does have a special value, a reason for being here. The challenge is to figure it out in our lifetime and to act upon it.
I certainly do not come close to either of the above categories, but when I finally exit someday, as we all will, I want to do so with a feeling that I helped others in some little way on their own life journey. Maybe it was a word that made them smile or a feeling of hope during a time of despair.
So I decided to try and distill my whole life into one final word. I figured that it would be a good idea to keep my memory short and sweet, hoping that future generations would at least be able to remember one word about me. But I found this to be challenging. There are so many words to choose from. I am coming up on 60 years of living. Each decade contained a different stage of life and I matured and changed through the years. This exercise forced me to scrutinize my life as if it was condensed in a Petrie dish under a microscope. I also tried to momentarily detach myself from it and view it from afar as a casual observer.
Yep, that is the one word that kept coming back to me as I performed this life inventory.
As a young child I loved to watch I Love Lucy and later The Carol Burnette Show. Sometimes I would try and imitate these comedic geniuses in order to enjoy the laughter of my family.
For several years in the classroom I surprised the class and donned a bright blue tutu, tiara, funny glasses, and waved a paper wand as I portrayed the “Love Fairy”. I was teaching my students how to describe themselves in Spanish and I later matched them up with an unsuspecting classroom “love connection”. I relished their laughter at my expense.
As a mom, my children were receptive to my antics. As infants they chortled at my funny voices and made-up songs and as teenagers they learned to expect moments of levity, even in front of their friends.
And now as a grandmother, I look for any opportunity to make Max and Charley break into fits of laughter while watching silly Mimi. Fortunately I can still jump and hop around and I have strange hats and odd clothes to inspire their smiles.
I have even decided that my 60th birthday will be a “Diamond Jubilee”, like Queen Elizabeth’s celebration of 60 years on the throne. I envision all of the female attendees wearing crowns! The laughter must never end.
“A well-developed sense of humor is the pole that adds balance to your steps as you walk the tightrope of life.” (William Arthur Ward)
And so now I challenge you. No matter what stage of life you are in, what would be your final word?
As you ponder over this request, you may be pleased and immediately come up with an answer. Or perhaps you are troubled and do not like the result. Use this then as an opportunity to change. It is never too late.
When you have decided, write down the final word on a piece of paper and place it in a sealed envelope. Put the envelope in a safe place and remember where you put it! In six months open the envelope and see if you are true to your final word. If so, celebrate! If not, can you do something about it?
We all get busy living our daily lives. But try and take a moment to think how you are living it. Someday, someone at a memorial service or in a tribute may comment on your life and give a final word. It sure would be nice to hear from afar the one that you had picked out for yourself!
I would love to hear from you if you would like to share! Send me your final word.
Meanwhile, I am going out to create some more laughter!