February 14, 2010

Will You Miss Me When I'm Gone?

Yesterday I attended Paul’s funeral. Funerals put you in a reflective state of mind, and bring forth myriad questions. First, about the deceased: Who was this guy? Where is he now? Why did this happen? How will his family cope? Then the questions become more personal: Who would come to my funeral if I died today? And what will they say about me when I do die? Then the questions get to the heart of the matter: In the end, when I reflect back on my life, did I do the right things? Did I do any good? Will anyone miss me?

Paul was 50 and hard to define. I think that’s because we tend to define people by what they do occupationally, and Paul died unemployed. He’d been unemployed for over a year. During his 30 or so years of employment, Paul changed jobs and professional identities frequently. Paul was a resource developer for a private Mennonite high school; he was a salesman for a cabinet company; he sold insurance; he worked for a bank; he was a substitute teacher. Paul never settled in one occupation for very long, so not only was he hard to define, people knocked him for that.

Paul worked with me for about four years, first as a paralegal in my law practice and later as a property manager. Until I attended Paul’s funeral, I thought I knew him pretty well.

The Paul I knew was gregarious, fun-loving, and enthusiastic. As an employee he was helpful in many ways, but frustrating in others. He often didn’t do the things that I thought he should have done – things that would have helped him have more success in his job and in his career. The real estate crash of 2006 and subsequent recession made it necessary for me to let Paul go in March of 2007. He worked as a paralegal for a large bankruptcy law firm for a while, and then became unemployed again and remained unemployed until his untimely death.

It was impossible not to see this pattern in Paul’s life of having a job, not having a job, having a different job, not having the different job and so on. And by that standard, it was impossible for some people not to judge Paul as somewhat of a failure. My assessment of Paul was not that harsh, but I gained a new insights about Paul yesterday. In a crowded church I heard tearful testimonies from Paul’s three children and his brothers and close friends and ministers. They described Paul as a loving father, loving husband, and good friend. They reminded me of what I already knew, Paul was a man of deep and abiding faith in God, and a man with a good bass singing voice, and a man who loved sports and life and people with passion. Paul had a good heart, a good smile and a ready laugh.

And suddenly it dawned on me that in the areas of life that matter the most, e.g. devotion to God and loving your family and being a good friend, Paul was an admirable success. Paul did not die rich, but Paul had lived richly.

Paul’s untimely passing and the recitation of who he really was at his funeral yesterday surely is a witness to those of us who knew Paul and who considered ourselves more “successful” than him. History books are full of stories of people who succeeded marvelously in politics or business, and who were utter failures in their devotion to God and family and friends. Surely Paul will be held in higher esteem in the hereafter when the parameters for judging success are turned upside down.

I’m not saying that financial success or career success and living right are mutually exclusive. In the end, though, I think it would be better to have your family and friends genuinely grieve your passing, as Paul's did, than to have them antiseptically recite your accomplishments in work or business. Jesus said it is better to store up treasures in heaven than here on earth. Yes, Paul died unemployed and penniless on this earth. But he lived richly and left a great legacy for his children. And I’ll just bet he’s a really rich guy in heaven.

No comments:

Post a Comment