In reality, there is nothing we can do—no fame we can garner, no money we can grub, no accumulation of “stuff” we can amass—which will have any meaning a few generations after our departure from this earth. As much as we try, our mortality is non-negotiable, our stuff stays behind, and our existence will become unimportant to the new crop of humans trying to figure out what to do with the mess we left them.
Even if our name is remembered by future generations, who we really are, things like our favorite color, our fears, our memories, our struggles and our simple joys will all fade, a mere collection of the unimportant trivia of one human’s personal preferences. As much as we struggle to create a lasting sense of significance in our existence through power or possessions, we all leave this earth taking nothing with us, disappearing into the vast history of the billions before us.
When my father was dying last year, his words were few. In the 90 days of his rapid deterioration brought on by skin cancer, his existence was mostly limited to thinking, watching, and listening to his family members gathering around for final precious moments with the patriarch. Although those days were filled with tending to the increasing demands of his decline, he did make a simple declaration that has left an indelible imprint on my choices each and every day. When musing over life and living, he quietly said to my aunt, “I think I made a mistake.”
Those final days, marked by few words, offered even fewer explanations. On March 10, 2011, when my father finally passed away, I was left to wonder what his statement might have meant. My guess is that, as he slowed down and began to reflect upon his life during those final hours, he realized that the things that had consumed his focus for 80-plus years were not things that truly mattered at the time of his departure.
WE DON’T NEED IT
The race to achieve significance, or possessions, or cash, or power oftentimes obscures the lasting meaning we might find in the daily reverence for the sacred potential of our existence. Of one thing I am completely and utterly convinced: we don’t need the power, money, fame, houses, cars, and all the junk we have been brainwashed into believing holds the key to our happiness or freedom. The proof of this can found in the lives of the uber-wealthy, our beloved reality show stars, or our professional politicians and celebrities who so often suffer from the threat of overnight dismantling of their fame or a mind-numbing pace of superficially important activities combined with the illusion of power, or addiction to alcohol, illicit or prescription drugs, or even to $500 smart phones which keep them from their children or loved ones.
WE BOUGHT THE LIE
Our nation has purchased a lie at the expense of our souls. And it fills our prisons, tempts elected officials to make decisions motivated by profit, and rips at the very fabric of our humanity, those core values that are proven in every society to enhance the human experience.
To experience significance in our lives and at the very core of our being, we must somehow resist those forces that lead us to disregard all that is simple, good and kind within the soul. In reality, what our society perceives and reveres as the key to happiness is actually a gauntlet standing in the way of any significance at all.
There will come a time when, as a people, we get so fed up with the lies that we stop listening to professional politicians, the media, or the misguided high-profile celebrities. Far too often, however, it happens too late for us to repair the damage and clean up the fallout caused by our superficiality.
If today were to be the last day I spend as a guest in this rental suit called my human body, it will be a day when my significance is determined by how I might help another soul, make someone’s day brighter, or give more than I receive. In my father’s passing he taught me the greatest lesson of all: it’s a mistake to permit society to dictate what is important. And yet our leaders, our celebrities, and our warped and soul-less media scramble desperately to perpetuate the ultimate lie plaguing our nation—that freedom is found in accumulation.
As disquieting as it was, being by my father’s side as he came to his realization that he had succumbed to the lie was his greatest gift and one that I will cherish for the balance of my life. Learning from his gift to me, I can live my day in the lesson of my father’s life. And, with any luck, my final words will not be “I think I made a mistake.”