I don’t want my life driven by asking “What will I get out of it?” but by answering “How will I contribute to others through this?”
Character is what gets you out of bed in the morning at a decent hour, so you get the exercise that you really don’t want to do, but must.
It’s what keeps you on schedule to you eat the breakfast and take the vitamins that your body needs to be healthy and productive throughout the day.
Character is what makes it possible for you to do all the things in the course of the day that need to be done, even though you don’t really want to do them
It’s what teaches you your place in the world, in society, in the grand scheme of things… and reminds you that your own personal comfort and convenience must sometimes often take a back seat to the Greater Good.
Rewards are great. They’re the fodder of some great marketing campaigns, and they do motivate people.
But Character… now, that’s something that lasts, even when there are no obvious rewards in sight.
Death is never an easy thing to deal with, and losing someone — or something — that means a lot to you, is just plain hard. Grief has a timetable of its own, and even when you think you’re past it, it can come up again — days, months, years after the fact.
Now a dear relative has died, and I have the opportunity to look at how that loss is affecting me and many others, whose lives they touched. Looking back at their long life — over 100 years — so many people and situations came across their path. Lots of good situations, lots of hard situations. And the last thing you could say about their life, was that it was easy. The last thing you could say about their personality, was that it was easy-going. They had a hard life, and they developed the mettle to deal with it. They weren’t always fun to be around, and they could be mean-spirited and cruel. But in the end, they really had a positive impact on so many lives. So many, many lives.
No matter their shortcomings — and we all have them — they always stayed true to their commitment to make a positive change in the world. That’s what their life was really about — through teaching, volunteer work, and active service on many boards in their community. The number of people coming through their hospital room at the end, to say good-bye and thank them for their service, was amazing. So many people who gained because of their commitment.
And it occurs to me, looking back at this relative, who had so many obvious flaws, that if they can make a positive difference, then any of us can. And we should. We simply need to have the willingness and the energy to keep going. We need to have that commitment. Each of us, in our own way, has at least one gift we can offer and develop to benefit others. And each of us, when we reach out to the people around us in a spirit of genuine helpfulness, can do something positive in this world to make it a better place. We don’t have to be famous or rich or mathematical geniuses to forge ahead. We can find our own small ways to pitch in and help, and do it better in our own way than anyone else ever could.
In a way, the fact that my grandparent was a difficult person, makes their contribution all the more inspiring. They freely admitted that they had limitations, and I know that in their later years they regretted a lot of things they had done in their youth. But they kept going. They kept learning. They kept showing progress and changing with the times. They didn’t push people away because of their limitations — they engaged with them and they learned from them, as well as taught. And in the end, what really matters is the good they brought to the world.
Looking at their example, I can see so many parallels with my own life — struggling with limitations, overcoming them, finding new ones to deal with, and keeping on till I could see past the most recent obstacle and get a clearer view of the world around me. Each barrier, each obstacle has taken me higher — so long as I’ve engaged with it. And each time I’ve overcome, I’ve gotten a better view of where I stood and what my options were.
Brain injury has been a real blight on my life. It’s stolen many good years from me, and it nearly ruined me, 10 years ago. But through following the example of my grandparent, and just keeping going, I’ve gained so much more than I ever could have, otherwise. And for that, I am truly grateful.
We all have something to offer. We all have something to contribute. And that “something” will necessarily change over time. As we age, as we learn, as we grow, as we go through the changes in our lives, our bodies and brains and outlooks change, sometimes turning us into completely different people. The loss of a job, the loss of a spouse, the loss of a home, a sudden change in fortune – for good or for ill – can drastically alter us and our relationship to the world and others around us.
That doesn’t mean we stop being able to help and contribute. That doesn’t mean we stop being useful and needed. Sometimes we need to recalibrate and shift our attention… look around for new ways to be of service. But those ways are out there — if we keep steady and look for them, with an open heart and lots of humility.
Okay, I’m getting off my soapbox now. I’m in a pretty philosophical frame of mind, these days.
On Thursday night, I’ll be driving to my family again for the viewing and funeral. I’ll probably be “dark” during that time, with everything going on. Right now, I’m making my list of things I need to do ahead of time, getting things together systematically, so I can just pick up and go on Thursday after work. I need to do laundry, buy food for the road, collect my thoughts for a short eulogy I’ll be giving, and basically keep myself steady and rested for the next week.
These things are never easy, but I do have a heads-up about what’s to come, so this will be logistically easier than the last weekend, when it all sort of took me by surprise. I was ill-prepared, in some ways, but it all came out okay in the end, I guess.
The main thing to remember, is that I’m doing really well. I have NOT melted down, since getting back, and I’m keeping steady and calm. I have a long day ahead of me, but that’s okay. At least I have a plan to follow, and I know how things are going to shake out.