Sunday, March 15, 2009

Don't Hold the Applause

You’re not dead yet [name omitted], but I want you to hear your eulogy. I don’t want to wait until you’re no longer around to hear it yourself, when we’re all standing around with reddened eyes and wishing we’d told you these things sooner. I don’t see the point. Kind words about you do no good when spoken to others, besides perhaps preserving your reputation. But that, I believe, speaks very highly for itself. Instead, I will tell you my thoughts directly. Maybe you’ll find them encouraging. That, at least, is my hope.

You often consider yourself a failure because you didn’t do one thing or another, but we are never the sum of our accomplishments – or our experiences, for that matter. We are the sum of our relationships.

You are disappointed with the decisions you made in your youth and how they restricted you to a path you grew quickly to vehemently dislike. You could have been more, you say; you could have done more, yet ended up doing little. But you’ve done a great deal for me and many others.

You are painfully aware of the mistakes you made in your career, and how they continue to hurt you, and prevented you move on to greater things. But you made the best of your lot and circumstances, and labored tirelessly at tasks you hated because you have a great ethic, a superb understanding of obligation, and because you did not accept defeat. Nor do any of us view you as defeated, for you are not. Hindered, yes; but defeated; never.

You begrudge the fact that you didn’t travel more, but such experiences are often little more than self-entertainment, notches in our belts, and fun things we’ve always wanted to do. Had you traveled every day of your life, you’d never have satisfied your curiosity. People try, yes, yet they’re often miserable in it. Nobody travels with them. Staying where you have, you’ve explored so much more: relationships.

You are ashamed with some aspects of your life, concealing peccadilloes, and hoping they aren’t used against you – proving for all to see that you are, in fact an abysmal flop. But there is no shame, for multiple reasons. God still loves you, and so do we. Furthermore, we have less-than-appealing aspects to our character, too. I don’t remember the mistakes with nearly the clarity that I remember the example you set, the manner in which your words aligned with your actions, and how the vast majority of what you did was honorable. On the scales by which we are all judged, you have been found worthy, and you have my deepest admiration.

You believe that, having not provided more, you will forever be remembered for your inadequacy. But the provision was more than sufficient. Many are thankful, myself included.

You are concerned that you’ve left no lasting impression. That every cause and purpose for which you labored will fade to total obscurity. You fear nobody will remember, but we do. And truly thousands, though they may not know it, reap the benefits of your efforts. What you pursued and what you fought for, you did so with passion. Would that we all possessed such dedication.

But we are never the sum of our accomplishments OR our failures. They, quite quickly, will be forgotten. Few wish their headstones to be adorned with their successes in the business world, how much money they made, or how famous they may have been. Ingenuity has its merit, but in death its honor rings hollow. We wish for a greater, more lasting memory. One clearly exists: the lives and people we have impacted. More specifically, the people we loved.

Did you make mistakes? Yes; we all do. Could you have done some things better? Yes, but so could every man. Are there personal disappointments? Absolutely; I endure a number of my own. But now answer this: did you love somebody? YES, and many. Myself included. By all standards therefore, before God and man alike, you have done well. This is what I will remember.

Copyright © 2009, Ben Shaw
All Rights Reserved


Elizabeth said...

It lacks detail; but hey, you can't very well post a real person's eulogy on the internet before they've died, now, can you?

Melody said...

See, I'm not the only one who thought so!

Ben Shaw | byshaw said...

This is correct. But more importantly, if you start to give details of HOW he or she loved, then it becomes directed at a specific person, not "everyman." Also, how one loves is not something to necessarily share here. Then I'm unintentionally illustrating what love looks like. That's different for every person, every relationship, and not something I wish to "confine" to the limits of my creativity. It would do love, and it's MANY exhibitions, a disservice.

Sarah said...

I did not notice the lack of "detail" in this eulogy. But what I did notice was the lasting respect and love the author had for this person despite their regrets and personal failures.
Sometimes when a eulogy is finally delivered, the message is regrettably too late.

Uncle Caesar said...

I know these people, and there is a bit of "everyman" in the article. We are a sum total of our lives. The whole body of work.

Elizabeth said...

No; while I understand the "everyman" intention, it does not work. If you write a story about an average or normal person, for the average reader, you will end up with crap. Our interest is more likely to be piqued when we have a badminton affinity in common with the character, not the fact that we were both in high school at one time. Dare to differentiate; the results personalize, and they do not ostracize. Well, unless you do something really weird, like make your character buy all his underwear from Goodwill.

Sarah said...

You guys have lost me on this one...

Melody said...

You put it much more eloquently than I, Elizabeth.

And ew to the buying underwear from Goodwill!

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