I think about death often.
Not in an obsessive way. More of a practical thought process. It’s not a topic I share with friends or family, so I’ve gotten quite adept at having that conversation inside my own head.
The truth is, I’ve been having that particular conversation quite often lately, a result of having lots of solitude as I train for the L.A. Marathon in March. Weekend long-runs provide ample time to think. And at my snail speed, I get a lot of bonus time for contemplative chats.
I can’t run without thinking about dying. In some ways, it’s a positive way to rationalize the not-fun-at-all realities of pushing this old body further than it’s built for. I remind myself that cramps, aches, and that stabbing feeling in my right hip are all signs that I’m still alive. If I can feel it – even the bad stuff – then I’m lucky.
But candidly, I don’t think I’m going to have a long life. And while I’d love to be on the Today Show in August 2060, celebrating my 100th birthday as a 357-year-old Willard Scott announces me as a Smucker’s birthday boy, I don’t expect it. My life experiences—and a pretty eye-opening cancer detour—have taught me that you never know what tomorrow will bring.
Which I’m fine with.
My vote doesn’t matter, anyway.
So I live my life. Every day. And to keep things simple, I let two metrics guide those days.
First, I try to live out my own eulogy.
I’ve given two hit-them-out-of-the-park eulogies already. One was for my father, and the other was for my best friend and brother, Kevin. And the reason I was able to hit them out the park had nothing to do with me. It had everything to do with the lives these two men lived.
Selfishly, some day I want my three children to be able to stand before my friends and family and describe a father who gave them every tool they needed to live a rich and meaningful life. A life they knew was grounded in self-value. And having that goal—the goal of a great eulogy—literally changes my actions and behaviors regularly. It helps me pause and pull myself together. It guides me to better words. It takes me to serendipity. It reminds me, no matter how tired I am, to take a moment to text a child away at school and tell them how much I love being their dad.
I’m living my own eulogy by giving my children the content I hope will leave a lasting handprint on their hearts.
The second metric has to do with you.
When I run, my playlist is schizophrenic. It’s a random compilation of country, contemporary, stuff from my high school days, and … show tunes. Yes, I’m a secret lover of musicals.
And there’s one song on my playlist that, no matter where I am in my runs, brings me to tears. It’s from the musical Wicked. And its lyrics perfectly sum up my second life metric:
I’ve heard it said,
That people come into our lives
For a reason
Bringing something we must learn.
And we are led to those
Who help us most to grow if we let them.
And we help them in return.
Well, I don’t know if I believe that’s true
But I know I’m who I am today
Because I knew you.
Beyond my children, the riches I’ve come to cherish most are the people in my life, from my intimate friends, to the “I’m-not-really-sure-who-you-are” person who regularly posts friendly comments on my Facebook wall. Every one of them. And it’s the two-way contract described in the words of that song that really stirs my soul.
And we help them in return.
It’s easy to be on the receiving end of virtually anything. It takes little emotional effort to understand the concept of, “I’m a better person because of you.”
But it’s the flipside that embodies my second metric: I hope my every day brings me the wisdom to help someone.
In big ways. In small ways. But mostly, in ways that are simply me.
Jim Higley is an award-winning author, radio host, and national advocate for fatherhood and men’s health issues. You can read more about his multi-faceted career at Bobblehead Dad.
OPINIONS EXPRESSED ON WORDS ON WEDNESDAY GUEST POSTS ARE THOSE OF THE AUTHOR AND NOT OF DAD 2.0 SUMMIT, XY MEDIA LLC, ITS MANAGEMENT OR EMPLOYEES.