Death is not something I think of often, but unexpected circumstances have served as a useful reminder to take a step back and reflect.
The Latin phrase memento mori literally means, "Remember that you must die."
On its surface, the phrase is depressing at best. But, if you pause to consider the deeper implications, memento mori is possibly the most useful reminder we have.
Impermanence is accompanied by an appreciation and wonder for the people, places, and events in our lives. It's hard to take something for granted when you know it will inevitably go away at a time outside of your control.
In many ways, memento mori is what makes life so beautiful.
This post is dedicated to my late Uncle Claude - a man who possessed a powerful presence accompanied by a soft demeanor with a textbook southern accent to boot. He left us sitting comfortably in his favorite reclining chair, relaxing in his living room - on his terms, likely reflecting on a full life, well-lived.
From 7 Habit of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey
Please find a place to read these words where you can be alone and uninterupted. Clear you mind of everything except what you will read and think. Don't worry about your schedule, your business, your family, or your thoughts. Just focus with me and really open your imagination.
In your mind, see yourself going to the funeral of a loved one. Picture yourself driving to the funeral parlor or chapel, parking the car, and getting out. As you walk inside the building, you notice the flowers, the soft organ music. You see the faces of friends and family you pass along the way. You feel the shared sorrow of losing, the joy of having known, that radiates from the hearts of the people there.
As you walk down to the front of the room and look inside the casket, you suddenly come face to face with yourself. This is your funeral, three years from today. All these people have come to honor you, to express feelings of love and appreciation for your life.
As you take a seat and wait for the service to begin, you look at the program in your hand. There are to be four speakers. The first is from your family, immediate and also extended - children, brothers, sisters, nephews, nieces, aunts, uncles, cousings, and grandparents who have come from all over the country to attend. The second speaker is one of your friends, someone who can give a sense of what you were as a person. The third speaker is from your work or profession. And the fourth is from your church or some community organization where you've been involved in service.
Now think deeply. What would you like each of these speakers to say about you and your life? What kind of husband, wife, father, or mother would you like their words to reflect? What kind of son or daughter or cousin? What kind of friend? What kind of working associate?
What character would you like them to have seen in you? What contributions, what achievements would you want them to remember? Look carefully at the people around you. What difference would you like to have mde in their lives?
Pause to consider the questions above before moving on.
To begin with the end in mind means to start with a clear understanding of your destination. It means to know where you're going so that you better understand where you are now and so that the steps you take are always in the right direction.
It's incredibly easy to get caught up in an activity trap, in the busyness of life, to work harder and harder at climbing the ladder of success only to discover it's leaning against the wrong wall. It is possible to be busy - very busy - without being very effective.
People often find themselves achieving victories that are empty, successes that have come at the expense of things they suddenly realize were far more valuable to them. People from every walk of life - doctors, academicians, actors, politicians, business professionals, athletes, and plumbers - often struggle to achieve a higher income, more recognition of a certain degree of professional competence, only to find that their drive to achieve their goal blinded them to the things that really mattered most and now are gone.
How different our lives are when we really know what is deeply important to us, and, keeping that picture in mind, we manage ourselves each day to be and to do what really matters most. If the ladder is not leaning against the right wall, every step we take just gets us to the wrong place faster. We may be very busy, we may be very efficient, but we will also be truly effective only when we begin with the end in mind.
If you carefully consider what you wanted to be said of you in the funderal experience, you will find your definition of success. It may be very different from the definition you thought you had in mind. Perhaps fame, achievement, money, or some of the other things we strive for are not even part of the right wall.
When Albert Einstein passed on April 18, 1955, he refused surgery which had the potential to save his life. Instead, Einstein famously said, "I have done my share, it is time to go."
A fulfilled life is a beautiful sight to behold.
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