Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today to read about how I misunderstood a friend's recent Tweet. They have to give a eulogy in a Public Speaking class, about a fictional person. At first, I thought it was a eulogy they had to write and read about themselves. Oy! Talk about morbid. At any rate, it got me to thinking about my own eulogy (which is hopefully far, far in the future, but you never know), and how I'd like to be remembered in it. Oh, come now, you know you've thought about this for yourself on occasion.
So, dear reader, how would you like to be remembered? When it's all said and done, how can our lives be accounted for? Gets you thinking, doesn't it? We say and do so many things during our days, often without thinking of the consequences (big or small), and the impact our words and actions have on the people and the world around us. But it's important. Even the smallest kindness, or cruelty, can make a difference to others. The following passage from George Eliot's Middlemarch has always stuck with me:
“But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.”
Simple, but powerful. I take from it that we do not necessarily need to pursue lives of grandiose achievement in order to touch those around us. Indeed, most often it is the case that we are more greatly impacted by the smaller aspects of our interactions than with the major events and situations that occur, although the landmarks are easier to identify. But smaller moments are very memorable. There have been little acts of human kindness, recognition and support visited upon me that will always resonate, even if the people who provided them may not have thought them important. And this is something they are remembered by -- whether they realize it or not.
Have I done such things? Who knows. It would be egotistical of me to say. But I certainly hope so. Such minor interactions are ones that can have the most impact -- in either an immediate or long-lasting sense. Sure, I've been in the public eye a bit (winning local elections and serving on a public governing body for four years will do that), but that 'fame' is rather fleeting. Lots of folks have done it before me, are doing it now, and will continue to do it far into the future, when I'll likely be thought of as "Matt who?"
Don't get me wrong: Big things are important, obviously. We need our heroes and our leaders, it's true. But they mustn't supplant the everyday folks who are out there making a difference, often in small ways that add up. So don't worry about your life in terms of the major things you have, or haven't, accomplished. Try and think of the little things that may matter to people the most.
British actor Paul Eddington, interviewed just weeks before he passed away from skin cancer, mentioned how he'd been asked what he'd like his epitaph to read. He replied, "I think I would like it to be, 'He did very little harm.'" He continued, "And that's not easy. Most people seem to me to do a great deal of harm. If I can be remembered as having done very little, that would suit me."
It would, I think, suit all of us.
(from 6:53 to 7:20)