I have a habit that a few of my friends find disturbing.
I like to spend time in cemeteries.
Here’s why: walking through a cemetery puts life in perspective. The brevity of life comes sharply into focus when surrounded by gravestones.
Twenty-five years ago, as I was walking through an old cemetery in Manassas, Virginia, I came upon a grave that had a profound affect on me. And it still does.
It was apparent by the date of birth and death that this woman had not lived a long life. But it was the words written on the gravestone that captivated me. Engraved on the stone were five simple words that succinctly and beautifully summed up what I would surmise to be a life well lived.
Could you sum up your life in five words? Could I?
Let’s pretend our lives end today. When the engraver finishes the gravestone, he calls the people closest to us and says, “I’ve got room left—could you come up with five words that sum up the focus of her life?” What five words would they choose? Based on how they spent their money and time, I would suggest the following five words for a few folks I’ve known:
- She wore the latest fashion
- He was a sports fanatic
- She retired early and traveled
- His yard always looked great
Far fetched, you say?
I have another habit that may prove otherwise. I collect obituaries. I especially like the ones that have a headline expressing the perceived focus of the deceased’s life.
- Paula Stephens loved her collection of dolls
- Leroy Lewis mastered the pipe organ
- Mayme Bilenger loved her Bonsai trees
- Lyda Hadley co-founded nudist resort
I rest my case.
When sociologist Tony Campolo interviewed 50 people age 95 or older, he asked, “Looking back, what would you do differently?” The top three responses were:
- Take more risks
- Reflect more
- Do more things that would last after we’re gone.
Wise words coming from those nearing the cemetery gates, wouldn’t you agree?
I don’t spend all my time contemplating life and death, but when I fly, I do ponder eternity. And with good reason. When I was flying back to North Carolina recently, the flight attendant made an announcement just as we were landing: “Ladies and Gentlemen, welcome to Charlotte. If you have a connecting flight, we wish you a pleasant journey to your final destination.”
We all have a final destination.
And though we don’t get to choose how we are going to die, we can choose how we are going to live. And we can be certain of our Final Destination.
Curious about the five words on the gravestone in Virginia? Here they are: “She went about doing good.”
What are your five words?