September 26. “Never lose sight of the fact that the most important yardstick of your success will be how you treat other people.” (Barbara Bush)
There is an old saying that never was there a Brinks truck in a funeral procession. The idea being that you can’t take your material wealth with you, so there is no reason for your hearse to be followed by an armored vehicle. That is true enough. What’s also true is that the length of your funeral procession will be proportional to how well you treated the people around you in your life. I know, this seems like a very fatalistic first paragraph for this blog, but stay with me for a moment.
The point I am making is that when all is really said and done, and you are about to be interred, what will really matter isn’t how big your bank account is, or how many toys you have, or the size of your house. I have heard far too many eulogies, and even written one myself, and none of them has ever included a breakdown of the decedent’s wealth.
When I was in High School I was on the debate team. In my Senior year one of my fellow debaters, an underclassman, lost his dad suddenly. My debate coach signed myself and another Senior out of classes to attend the funeral Mass. I learned as we were driving there, that like me, he had also lost his dad at an early age. It was obvious why we were chosen as the emissaries. It was a warm, sunny, spring day. We arrived at the Church, and it was difficult to park because the lot was so full. I remember that we parked on the street a block or two away. When we went inside, this sizable church was packed to the rafters. We were able to find a pair of seats in the back rows. We sat there for the Mass and heard at least two people get up and talk about this man. He was in his 40s, was a local business man, and was very active in his community. He had at least 2 sons that I remember. I had never seen so many people at the Funeral for a person. Later my debate coach explained that the number of people who will come to your funeral peaks when you are in your 40s because that’s when you know the most living people. As you get older, some of your family and friends will pass away, and your funeral will get smaller. I guess that’s true, but there was something else in play for this person.
This funeral mass was taking place on a week day when many people would have been at work, and yet the Church was packed. While I think the number was influenced by his age, I think it was far more influenced by the fact that he was so genuinely loved by so many people. The size of his family couldn’t account for that full church, but the size of his heart, and the way that he had positively affected so many people could.
I have dabbled a bit in looking up my ancestry. I find it interesting to search public records to find out when someone was born, what they did, who they married, what children they had, and so on. Nowhere in any of those public record searches is there a discussion about their income or wealth. That’s partly true for privacy reasons, but I think it is also true because it doesn’t really matter.
As I am approaching 30 years at my company, I have been to many retirement gatherings. Inevitably someone at the gathering will say a few words about the person. While there might be a reference to a few particular projects the person worked on, the focus is never on meeting milestones, or hitting financial targets. The focus at these celebrations is always on the stories of how that person interacted with her or his coworkers.
It is easy for me to get caught up in the numbers. My job lends itself particularly well to being measured on things like financial performance, number of milestones met on time, baseline calculations, issues closed and so on. Over the past four and a half years I can recount my performance for tracking all of these numbers. But, as I am readying myself to move on to my next assignment, none of that matters beyond making sure that my replacement has the information needed to carry on the job. What does matter is that there is a wake of people around me that I have interacted with.
Mrs. Bush has it exactly right here. What truly matters, the yardstick that really counts, is the one that measures how well I treat the people around me.
Yesterday my reflection was on what it means to be a lifelong learner. Today my reflection is on what it means to be a lifelong friend. Today I am contemplating how well I measure up on the yardstick of friendship.