What stories will people tell about you when you are gone? Will they be heart-warming stories or stories you would rather not hear? Thinking about how you want to be remembered can inspire you to create a good life for yourself and the people you love.
They had all come to say goodbye and the church was full. There were her friends from the different periods of her long life and the students she had inspired. Her church community were there, and of course, her husband and their children and grandchildren. Many touched her coffin fondly – tenderly – as they filed past to take communion.
I had met her a few times many years ago but I did not really know her. She was the mother of my friend, Ashley*. The journey from London had taken several hours and I did not know anyone among the couple of hundred people there. It’s an odd thing but a funeral is the only occasion where you can invite yourself and for a moment I worried if I was imposing myself on Ashley and her family.
The Legacy of a Good Life
But then as I looked around – at Ashley and her family, the friends and community around them – I thought: this is Mary’s* legacy, these people here today. And I am a part of that legacy, too. For the people who had known her fully, her life, who she was, how she had been with each of them had touched them in some meaningful way. And although I had not known her well, I knew her daughter Ashley – and in Ashley, I saw a warm-hearted woman who could inspire love and loyalty in her friends and in seeing these qualities in my friend, I realised that I knew her mother through her.
Mary’s son in law, Kyle*, stood at the lectern and pulled out his notes. “How long have you got?” he smiled. “There is so much to say, so many stories to tell…”
He told stories from Mary’s long, full life that took in travel, laughter, fun and devotion. The stories showed us a woman who was passionate about the church, loving to her husband and family, mischievous, warm-hearted and friendly to all.
Stories of a Good Life
Sitting in the church listening to these stories about a woman I did not really know, it struck me that this is ultimately what we leave behind: the stories of who we have been.
Our legacy may be the spouse and children we have nurtured, the hearts we have touched, the work we have done. But the essence of who we are lives on, too. We leave behind our very selves in the stories that people tell about us. We are in the end the sum of our stories.
What stories will people tell about you at the end of your life? Actually, never mind the end of your life – what stories are people telling right now about you?
Looking at my own life, I am sure there are stories out there about me that I would be embarrassed and ashamed to hear. About my bad temper and how I have been mean or rude or unhelpful. About the times when I’ve been foolish or cowardly or when I’ve said horrible things or gossiped or lied.
But I hope there are also stories about my kindness and generosity and loyalty. About the times when I’ve been there for friends, made people laugh, made them feel special and loved. About my creativity and sense of fun, my courage and steadfastness and what I have done to help or make amends.
I imagine that there is a similar mix of stories in your life, too.
And no doubt, we all hope that the latter stories outnumber the former!
But even if they do not, there is still time to redress the balance. All we have to do is start now.
Living the Good Life
The next time we feel impatient with someone, how might we behave differently so that we might avoid creating a story where we are rude – but rather live one where we can be assertive but also kind to the other person?
In a coming encounter, can we make it a story where we respond authentically instead of one where we simply go through the motions? Will a friend in need be telling the story in the future of how we were open in spirit instead of closed when they came to us for our help?
For each of us the details of these opportunities will be different. But they all come down to one decision made time and again over a lifetime.
Which story will we choose for our lives?
*names and personal details have been changed for privacy
Photo: Bouquet of flowers to illustrate living the good life – thanks to kazandrew2 from flickr.com (CCL)