What Matters—A Life Worth Living (January 4, 2019)
The last couple of weeks, I’ve been writing about what makes life good, rich, healthy, and whole. I quoted Jean Vanier’s reflections about relationship making life worthwhile. Last week, I quoted Saint Teresa of Calcutta and Kent Keith. This week, I’d like to share with you something written by Michael Josephson in 2003.
Josephson is the founder of the Josephson Institute of Ethics. He is a passionate advocate for what he calls “character education” for youth, as well as a champion of ethical conduct in every sphere of life, including business, politics, government, policing, journalism, sports, healthcare and law.
Josephson calls this reflection “What Will Matter”. He points to what makes life worth living.
“Ready or not, some day it will all come to an end.
“There will be no more sunrises, no minutes, hours, or days.
“All the things you collected, whether treasured or forgotten, will pass to someone else.
“Your wealth, fame, and temporal power will shrivel to irrelevance.
“It will not matter what you owned or what you were owed.
“Your grudges, resentments, frustrations, and jealousies will finally disappear.
“So, too, your hopes, ambitions, plans, and to-do lists will expire.
“The wins and losses that once seemed so important will fade away.
“It won’t matter where you came from or what side of the tracks you lived on at the end.
“It won’t matter whether you were beautiful or brilliant.
“Even your gender and skin color will be irrelevant.
“So what will matter? How will the value of your days be measured?
“What will matter is not what you bought but what you built; not what you got but what you gave.
“What will matter is not your success but your significance.
“What will matter is not what you learned but what you taught.
“What will matter is every act of integrity, compassion, courage, or sacrifice that enriched, empowered, or encouraged others to emulate your example.
“What will matter is not your competence but your character.
“What will matter is not how many people you knew but how many will feel a lasting loss when you’re gone.
“What will matter is not your memories but the memories of those who loved you.
“What will matter is how long you will be remembered, by whom, and for what.
“Living a life that matters doesn’t happen by accident.
“It’s not a matter of circumstance but of choice.
“Choose to live a life that matters.”
I think Josephson gets to the heart of what fills a life with value. So often, we value the wrong things. If I only get a bigger this, or a more powerful that, or a more splashy something else, or a larger whatever, or a fancy thingamajig. It is so easy for us to fill our lives up with stuff. We think that something new will add value to our lives, but it doesn’t and the shine wears off the new thing very quickly indeed.
Instead, life is filled with grace as we make different choices. To love. To help. To be involved in meaningful relationships. To give. To share. To show compassion. When we make those kinds of choices, our lives become grace–full.
There’s a common saying that no one ever faces death wishing she had spent more time at work. Let me paraphrase that sentiment: At the end of life, no one will say “I wish I had gotten a larger screen TV” or “I wish I had a more powerful computer” or “I wish I had lived in a tonier neighbourhood”.
When we choose to be loving, generous, kind, and compassionate, those are the choices that will shape our lives and the kind of legacy we will leave behind. Those choices will determine the value of the lives we live.
Rev. Yme Woensdregt