What Matters?

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Yesterday we buried my brother. He outlived any reasonable life expectancy given that he had a liver transplant over 18 years ago. Mark Anthony from Shakespeare’s Julius Ceasar famously said, “I come to bury Ceasar not to praise him.” It is true that I don’t come to praise my brother Gordon — and there was much to give praise about — but Shakespeare got me thinking.

The discussion that day was about the nature of Ceasar — now dead. The pundits had various opinions. Anthony says, “The evil that men do lives after them; The good is oft interrèd with their bones.” Maybe. But that is not my experience.

Once we are gone our lives for good or ill are frozen in time. I believe we tend to forget the ill — or at least leave it unsaid — and focus on the good. We simply make the passing caveat that the departed one was not perfect.

Then we go on to discuss what David Brooks has coined the “Euology Virtues.” I like that phrase. Brooks contrasts those virtues with “Resume Virtues.” “Résumé Virtues” cover what a person did. “Eulogy Virtues” cover what the person was — or better became.

The everyday world encourages us to work on the “Résumé Virtues” and within bounds that should not be reckoned as ill. But the “Eulogy Virtues” are the ones that matter most.

My assessment of the world around me is that we give far too much play to what a person has accomplished in the tangible terms the world understands. We downplay the lives of those who don’t climb high on the mythical pyramid. We elevate the lives of those who reach towards the top. I say that’s bad. It isn’t about “Résumé Virtues” because Jesus said it isn’t. “But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.” Matthew 19:30 In the previous verse Jesus talks about what people leave for his sake as the measure of value in life.

“Eulogy Virtues” stand the test of the grave better than “Résumé Virtues.” Let’s notice them while we are yet alive to do so.

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