“Many people die with the music still in them.” Oliver Wendell Holmes
I remember reading that Oliver Wendell Holmes quote some forty plus years ago. I said to myself then, “I will not be one of those people who die with the music still in them.” In recent days I have been thinking more and more about the end of life. Perhaps, it is because my Mom died this past January. My father turned age 87 this month. I see him struggle to do normal things like walk, talk, hear, eat, go the bathroom, stand-up, sit down–everything is a struggle. Life is difficult. This past week a co-worker’s father died unexpectedly at the age of 57. My daughter in-law lost her uncle to cancer last month. Death and issues of old age seem to be all around me in recent days. And, reflections about death, dying, growing old have been on my mind for several months.
At the same time, I am quick to recognize that life is full of wonderment and opportunity. This past Sunday, I attended the birthday celebration of Anna. She is celebrating her 100th year. Anna is full of positive energy. She lives in an independent living facility. She routinely cooks meals for the “old people” as she refers to them. Anna is the perfect example of positive thinking becoming positive living. She has lived a life worth emulating. She’s an inspiration. Her pleasant smile and love for others radiates as she embraces everyone she meets. Anna has made her world a better place.
Singer and song writer from my era, Joan Baez wrote,You don’t get to choose how you’re going to die, or when, you can only decide how you are going to live now.”
Ten years ago I met a career consultant named Tony. He suggested that I write a personal mission statement. He also recommended that I write a letter to myself describing “me.” What makes me tick? What are my skills? What qualities and characteristics do I have? What’s important to me? What are my personal values? If I could decide how I was going to live, as Joan Baez put it, what would I choose?
This exercise helped me to crystallize my personal career objectives and, more so, it helped me to think seriously about how my life (and, everyone’s life) might be measured in terms of making the world a better place.
My life is a gift, a treasure, not to be squandered. I am blessed to have good health and the energy to do something useful. I have opportunities all around me. I only have to convince myself that I can choose how I will live this day and the next and the day after. Everyday we are given new opportunities to make a positive difference. So, to the extent that it is possible, I recommend that we emulate Anna. Become a positive person in your home, in the workplace, in your place of worship, wherever you are, whatever situation you may find yourself in–smile, be upbeat, be full of enthusiasm, give your time and energy to something worthwhile, make things happen, be a doer, not a complainer.
In 2000 I wrote this Mission Statement–
To live my life committed to serving God, family, friends, co-workers, business associates, clients and customers. To show my appreciation for the talents and gifts God has given me through prayerful thanksgiving and dedicated effort. To be committed. To make a difference. To be a positive influence. To bring dignity to others. One day at a time. One prayer at a time.
I re-read my mission statement periodically to help me get focused, to help me stay motivated, to help me re-dedicate myself to important objectives, to help me discard things of lessor importance. Each person must decide how they intend to live, how they intend to measure their own life’s accomplishments. I believe our “mission,” written or not, will be clearly demonstrated through our words, thoughts and actions. In the end we will accomplish only what we believe we can accomplish. As Henry Ford said, “If you think you can or you think you can’t, you are exactly right.”
There are so many opportunities available today to make a difference–to make the world better. I encourage my children, my friends, my grandchildren to decide that you will make the world a better place. Choose a worthwhile objective. Convince yourself that you can make a difference. You can do it!