A few things happened this week that have me doing some self-reflection. The first was a patient who was discovered to have cancer. Massive, metastasized tumors that had spread everywhere. The brain was being shifted to one side due to the tumors. Inoperable. The patient was told there were weeks to a month left. It’s hard to grasp being told that sort of news. Seeing that numb, vacant look in a patient’s eyes as they try to process what they’ve been told… affects you.
And then we had a family member pass away a few days ago. It wasn’t completely unexpected, but it’s still not the phone call you expect as you go about the day-to-day minutia of life. During the memorial service a video montage of photos was played, showing the spectrum of his life. From a young vibrant man to elderly and frail. Many of the pictures I’d never seen before. Hilarious plaid and burgundy pants. Massive Elvis-like shirt collars. Vacation and travel photos. Images of holding his infant daughters and final pictures of him with his new grandchildren.
Seeing those images made me happy because it was clear he’d lived a full life. He saw the world, worked hard, and had a loving family to the end. He fully participated in life. He was a happy guy who never had a bad thing to say about anyone. He far exceeded the average life expectancy in this country. You can’t ask for much more. The patient who received the bad news won’t have that opportunity. It’s a stark contrast.
Watching that tribute scroll across the screen, naturally you start thinking about your own end. What will my montage of pictures show? Will I be satisfied with my time here? What will people remember me for? Will anyone even show up? I think it’s good to be reminded occasionally that our time here is limited. What do you want out of the brief moment you’re on this earth?
We all want to leave our mark on the world. Something that says I was here, and I’ll be remembered. Some people think that’s their kids. For others it’s their job. Maybe it’s writing a book, creating art, or being a famous Instagram influencer. We think we need to leave behind something tangible because that “thing” is what’s going to define our memory. This is not true.
How you interact with the world today is what you’re going to be remembered for. The more engaged you are with life will influence everyone around you and how you’re perceived. The most beloved people are those who actively engaged with others, were happy, and led full and interesting lives. This is a hard reminder for those of us introverts who struggle with people engagement.
So, mostly as a reminder to myself, a list of things you need to work on today. Right now. Do these things and you’ll maximize the time you have left. And when your time comes… you will be remembered.
- Engage with your fellow humans. Preferably in person. Frequently. Repeatedly. When in person isn’t possible, txt, email, Zoom, etc… Maintain contact. This is the most important thing you can do. Out of sight, out of mind. This is also the hardest for me as an introvert. And no, engaging with Instagram or YouTube comments from strangers is not the same thing.
- Be interesting. It makes zero difference what your interesting thing is. If your world revolves around building model trains and attending train expos (is there such a thing?), then be passionate about it. People respond to someone who has something more to say than discussing the latest episode of some TV sitcom or regurgitating CNN/FOX news crap. And to be interesting… you have to actually get off the couch and interact with the world. A bonus!
- Be worldly. Travel. It doesn’t matter if that’s your own town, state, country, or international. Have you gone to all the museums in your town? Local craft fairs? Explore new restaurants? Tried foods from other cultures? (Taco Bell doesn’t count) Driven to the international potato museum the next town over? You’re only here once. Go explore your world. (see point number 2)
- Read. Read some more. Reading makes you think. Reading improves your vocabulary. Read stuff that goes against your political/social views. It’ll help solidify your opinions or open up your brain to other ideas. All of this goes a long way to making you interesting and enjoyable to interact with. (see point number 2)
- Be happy. I get it, easier said than done sometimes. The world is not always a perfect place. But you only get one shot at this. Nobody wants to be around a chronic complainer. Be happy and grateful for what you do have, recognizing that odds are you’re better off than a large percentage of the world. And for god’s sake, make a point of doing something fun from time to time. People would much rather hear a cute story about you trying to throw a frisbee for the first time in twenty years, than you complaining about your crappy job (again). Being happy is contagious.
- And finally… do something creative. Make something (and yes, food counts). Write. Paint. Take pictures. Sing. Play an instrument. Learn to juggle and put it on a YouTube channel. It doesn’t matter what it is. Creativity engages the brain and forces you to think and learn. And when that happens, guess what? You’ll be a more interesting human.
There are no profound insights in anything I just said. It’s the basic recipe for being a well-rounded, happy human, making the most of the time you have left on this earth. And when your time does end, I guarantee your montage of pictures will show a life well lived and will be seen by a lot of folks happy they had a chance to be a part of your life.
RIP Uncle Jim. 1935-2021