Thursday, March 25, 2010

Our epitaphs

I taught a class to middle schoolers once in which the curriculum required that the students write their own epitaph. Now don't go getting all macabre on me because it wasn't like that at all. Actually, it was a pretty cool exercise to try and get these 8th graders to think way down the line. Yeah, like way down the line. I guess that may have gone under the category called "Long Term Planning." But really and truly, it was an exercise to prompt them to consider, as seriously as they could, what they would want to be known for when all was said and done. I know. I know. That's hard even for those of us who are...ahem....way on up there. We mess around all day in our lives and then those days turn in to years and then those years add up. Writer Annie Dillard says that how we spend our days is how we spend our lives. So, the next thing we know.....well, somebody might need to write down something---very succinctly about us...on a piece of marble or granite or someplace lasting.
On my mother's grave, the head stone reads, "Mother to many, Friend to All." I wonder if that's what she would have chosen. It suits her, though. I am ashamed to say that my father has been dead for eight years and the eight of us, his children, still have not come up with a head stone for him. It's a long, complicated story that involved his body being sent to Emory and then his last wife doing screwy things. Two memorial services later and we have not written his epitaph that speaks to the sum of his life. It's too hard---too hard for all of us to agree on what to say--and too hard to compress a life into ten words or less.
I know that none of us reading this (or writing this) is living our lives with the intent of hoping somebody will one day write something really nice about us on a chunk of stone. But, if we even had any input into it, what is it that you would want your epitaph to say? At the end of the day, what is that you would most want others to say about you? Like in 10 words or less? That's harder than writing a haiku maybe--but, yeah, if the whole of your life were reduced to haiku. What would it say?
I mean, if it were something true. If it really reflected what you had offered to this life, to this earth, to all the people whose paths you had crossed.
My precious friend Eve's marker simply says, "Beloved." Complete and true.
Is there one word like that for you and for me? How do we show up in this world to others? What is it that they see in us or do not see in us? What would our lives compel another to say if they told the truth? Uh-oh.
I guess what I'm trying to say is that who we are counts. You know students always ask a teacher, "Is this important? Is this going to be on the test?" Well, life is kind of like that. Yes, 'how we are' is important, and yes, it's going to be on the test. In fact, it's already on the test. We are seated with pencils sharpened. We are in the midst of taking the test. Did we forget that in the midst of all of our busy-ness? Did WE think this was the warm-up?
Here's the good news. At least it's good news for me. Even if we've chosen some pretty "crappy" things before today, we get a chance to choose anew--all new today.
It's sort of like that saying, "It's never too late to have a happy childhood."
It's never too late to rethink who we want to be.
So, back to working on your profile, the picture you're painting of yourself in this life. Are we not in the midst of making our mark--even today, even now? I think about this every day as I parent Taylor. He just lives so purely and clearly and cleanly. He is easy to sum up: Pure in heart...shall see God. And I just do my best to mess it all up by cluttering him up with stuff that probably doesn't amount to much. Hmmm. What does he know that I don't?
Not that any of us would ever consider that anybody would write the word, "Saint" on our markers, but here's a story to churn on as you think about your epitaph.
In church one morning, some young children were asked, "Who in here can tell us what a Saint is?"
One little fellow piped up, "I think I know."
Looking up at the beautiful stained glass windows of Matthew and Mark and Luke, lining the walls of the sanctuary, the boy offered this, "A Saint is any one who lets the light shine right through them. Just look up there. See the light shining through them? That's what a Saint is."
I am not sure what all it entails to live a life of purpose, love and meaning.
But, I am pretty sure we cannot go wrong at all if we let the light shine right through us.
An epitaph? How about:
He let the light shine right through him.
Ok, so, here are my two top choices:
1. She looked damn good in that bathing suit.
2. She let the light shine right through her.
I must be honest; it's a toss up.
Ok, Ok, I'll go with the light shining through.
Can I have two though? Bathing suit and light?