Sunday, July 04, 2004

An old piece I forgot to blog......

Maximizing your 15 minutes

You can’t summarize a life in 15 minutes” is an oft-repeated platitude. While it’s true that you can’t recite a person’s biography in 15 minutes, you can summarize a life in 15 minutes. I know this, because I summarize lives all the time. I give eulogies.

Eulogies are more than mere summaries. When I perform a funeral for someone I didn’t know, often when I meet the families, they are (understandably) quite nervous. “You must mention this,” a family member will admonish me, as they recite critical information. Certain phrases are repeated compulsively, trying to make certain that I, an outsider, get the story right. It’s important to the family, because the eulogy is no mere summary. Rather, it is a public statement of legacy and memory. And legacies matter.

No one wants to live a forgettable life. This is not due to vanity. It is an essential, existential need. Man’s most powerful quest is the search for meaning. We hope that we’ve made a genuine contribution, that the sum total of our labours will have made this world a better place. And after all is said and done, we hope that’s how everyone else remembers us as well.

Maybe it’s because I’m closing in on 40, or maybe it’s because I attend too many funerals, but I’ve started to think about my own legacy. Perhaps it’s odd, but at funerals, when I listen to the family pay tribute, I wonder what the 15-minute summary of my life will sound like. I suspect I’m not alone in doing this, and that many of you think about your legacies as well.

My experience at funerals has taught me what a real legacy sounds like. First off, (for those of you in the market for sports cars), in the nearly 300 funerals I have been to, not once has the deceased’s car been mentioned. Nor have the person’s children spoken about how large his house was or which caterer he used for simchahs.These may be biographical facts, but they aren’t a part of a legacy.

The eulogies that I remember years later are about mothers who worked full time to support their family, and woke up at 3 a.m. to cook dinner; about teenagers who volunteered to fight in the Israeli army during the War of Independence; about grandmothers who lovingly baked cookies; about Holocaust survivors who had the courage to survive and rebuild; about restaurant owners who regularly fed hoboes.Genuine legacies are made of love and courage, determination and devotion.

Biographies can takes hours to recite, only to be forgotten immediately. Legacies can be summarized in a few short minutes, but they’re always unforgettable. For my 15-minute summary, I’m striving for an authentic legacy.

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