Recently I caught a rerun of Columbo, my favorite television show ever.
Sitting with the coroner at the scene of a murder, Columbo asks:
“Did you read this? This is what [the department] gave me.” Columbo squints at a small piece of paper. “‘Female Caucasian piano player born in Kenosha, Wisconsin.'”
Flipping through a book of news articles in front of him, Columbo shrugs to the coroner:
“Now look what I find in the scrapbook. ‘Miss Wells London, Miss Wells Paris, Miss Wells, Miss Wells, Miss Wells….Genius at birth. Talented. Magnificent. Fabulous.”
Shaking his head, he turns back to the small slip of paper in his hand.
“Look what the department gets me. ‘Female Caucasian piano player born in Kenosha, Wisconsin.'”
That got me thinking that unless you’re immortal, at some point you’re going to die. And when you die, it’s likely that those you left behind will hold some sort of memorial service commemorating your life.
And then I started wondering less about “you” and more about me, and I asked myself–
What’s on my slip of paper?
Then I started wondering if that question had a “right” answer, and if it did, how should I answer it?
Well, I should like to be considered by my wife as the best husband ever, recognizing that I’m a great provider, a patient friend, a delightful cook, and a perpetually pleasant companion. I should like to be thought of as world’s best dad for my doting, loving-kindness, my sacrificial service, and my playful nature with the little ones. I should like to be known as a dynamic leader, the kind with a can-do attitude and a bank account to prove it. I should like to have others find me Christ-like for my love of humanity.
But I’m not all of those things, even on a good day.
Finally, it jumped out at me that I don’t care to be remembered for accolades like best-ever or world-class as much as I want others to remember how I behaved and how I made others feel.
When a friend of mine lost her father, her words at his memorial service spoke to me:
“I’ve never known anyone as gentle and kind as my father.”
What have I done this week to show kindness? Have I practiced kindness in the last day, the last hour?
At certain times in my life, I’ve been that person who needed to take a penny from the tray by the register. I want to be known as the person who put plenty of pennies back, never forgetting where I came from and always mindful of where I could return.
Yes, I know that enjoyable is a weird way to wish to remembered. But if I think about it, more than being thought of as brilliant, talented, handsome, or powerful, I wish people to feel better for having spent time with me.
Eventually my ashes will rest somewhere, only God knows when. But I wish a part of me, the best part of me, could go on living in someone else. I wish that when people would tell stories of me, they would laugh and maybe tell how I helped them on their journeys. Maybe some of them would go on to help others on their journeys.
Perhaps I should be wanting things like best husband, greatest dad, strongest leader, and the most Christ-like to be written on my paper when my days are done. But the only way to ever accomplish those things is if today I practice kindness and generosity, if today I strive to be enjoyable in the company of others, and if today I focus my actions on things that will outlast me.
1. What few words do you wish to be attached to you after you’re gone?
2. What one act can you practice today to get you one step closer to that epitaph?