Who Is Going To Write Your Obituary?

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(Editor’s Note: The pictures above are from the Japanese Garden in Van Nuys, Ca.)

“Every one of us is dying, some of us are doing so faster than others, but it doesn’t matter because we are all dying.”

I can’t tell you the name of this philosopher but I can tell you he was a substitute teacher from high school in my tenth grade biology class, at least I think he was.

Thirty years ago that wasn’t a comment I took seriously because when you are 15 you are invincible. When your parents refuse sign the form that lets you play high school football you roll your eyes because you are fearless. When you argue with your father and push him to the point where he says you are too dumb to recognize how easily you can get hurt you are furious but you grudgingly accept it.

This Is Not A Morbid Post

I remember complaining to both of my grandfathers about this silly rule and being told that my father was right and that when I was forty I would appreciate being able to walk.

My grandfathers rarely argued with me but I remember when I pushed back they both told me that life would show me that not everyone would make it to forty and that I shouldn’t forget it. I wrote that off as old people talk and went about my life. Every year I was in high school I heard about students who died in accidents and I wrote that off too.

And I did the same when ‘Charlie’ died our freshman year of college because she was in a car accident. Don’t misunderstand I am not saying I wasn’t sad because I was. ‘Charlie’ was a friend but it was easy for me to attribute her death to bad luck. Rainy day, slick roads, could have been different.

It wasn’t until I had been out of college and lived a bit more and seen some more things that my perspective changed. It wasn’t until we lost David and I heard about other people who died from terminal illnesses that I started to understand how tenuous our grasp can be.

This is not a morbid post.  This is me thinking about the substitute teacher from above and wondering what made him think he was entitled to stand in front of us and tell us that death was coming and that life was pointless because that was the second part of his soliloquy.

I don’t remember the exact words but I remember the intent.

Who Is Going To Write Your Obituary?

Who is going to write your obituary is my response to that bastard. It is me saying I am the conductor of my life and I am doing my best to write my obituary.

I am not interested in letting life just happen or pass me by. Some of my dreams have been fulfilled, some have been missed and some have been postponed.

Ask me if I am fired up about this and I’ll say yes. Ask me why and I’ll tell you I am tired of hearing parents (many of my contemporaries) tell me that if our children don’t receive ‘A’s in their classes their lives will be over. That includes those who think that sending children to public school is equivalent to not vaccinating their children.

The latter is an exaggeration and the first is a lie.

Education is critical. Ask my children and they will tell you I have told them a good education is of paramount importance because it cannot be taken from you. Possessions can come and go. Money can come and go, but an education lasts.

But success isn’t rooted in your grade point average. My kids know I expect their best. If that is an ‘A’ or if that is a ‘C’ I am fine with it. But I won’t lie and say ‘A’s are the secret of success.

Many of the best jobs that you can have now didn’t exist when I was a student. No one went to school because they wanted to be an engineer at Google.

Maybe a few kids thought about getting a job at Atari or Intellivision but most of us didn’t think about a multi-billion dollar gaming industry. A good education helped many of us gain the experience to enter these industries but if you are Generation X or older chances are you didn’t get out of school thinking about the Internet as being where you’d look for career opportunities.

A ‘Big Life’

Several years ago as my son faded off into sleep he told me he wanted to live a ‘big life.’ That has stuck with me and I have tried to help he and his sister find things that filled their hearts.

Churchill said he expected history to be kind to him because he intended to write it. Maybe that is the subconscious genesis of my intent to write my own obituary but that is not what matters.

What matters is that I continue to take an active role in doing things that let me live the kind of life I want for my obituary. If things go half as well as I hope you’ll have to stick around for another 100 years at least to read it.

What do you think?

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  1. Joshua Wilner/A Writer Writes May 1, 2014 at 1:42 pm

    biggreenpen That is an outstanding quote, I really like it. Truth. I think your last few lines are precisely what most of us would like to have happen.
    I am excited for your move, hope it is even better than you dreamed of.

  2. biggreenpen April 30, 2014 at 2:51 pm

    You know, I am not sure I can articulate what I think right now. But my actions hopefully reflect the fact that I intend to leave a different/bigger/more true to myself legacy for my children. I am leaving my job (would have been 20 years in August) … sort of based on the premise of everything you said above. I was just looking up a quote that I had used in a blog (I was writing the health plans I deal with and saying my “goodbye thing.” I ended up not using the quote because ….. it wouldn’t be appropriate (part of the reason I’m leaving!) but I believe this 115%:  When you live your passion, there is no line dividing what you do and who you are.They are one. – Leigh Caraccioli    So I guess I hope my obituary would say: she lived her passion; what she did was who she was, and it all made a difference to the people closest to her and maybe to some people she’ll never know.

  3. Joshua Wilner/A Writer Writes April 29, 2014 at 6:40 pm

    Mary Stephenson Hi Mary,

    I am sorry to hear about your friend. Life happens whether we pay attention or not. I certainly don’t want to die being angry and bitter.

    Peace before death sounds like a very reasonable goal.

  4. Mary Stephenson April 29, 2014 at 1:48 pm

    Hi Josh

    Thinking a lot about living to the fullest.  My friend that I wrote about in January has had a sad life.  When I talked to her in Jan 22nd she was crying and telling me she had cancer.  She told me she was scared.  I just found out the other day she had died “peacefully at home” on Feb 13th.  I doubt it, the peaceful bit!

    When you live your life with anger and bitterness you die with anger and bitterness.  Not forgiving or moving on, but constantly dwelling on injustices done to her left her with so much despair.  It is a good lesson to learn.  Every moment we live is one moment closer to death.  What we do before that happens, is how we have peace while waiting for death.


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