The idea owes its shape to an exercise by Stephen Covey. Imagine your funeral. Imagine the speakers. One from your family. One of your friends. Someone from a community you participated in, a church, a club, a league. What would they say about you? What will you wish they said about you? What kind of life will you wish you had lived?
But that's the shape of the idea. The root goes down deeper than I can trace. Ever since I was a child I was fascinated with the concept of life as narrative. I didn't want a boring story for a life.
But the dreams I was sold, the values I was given, the life I was told to live derailed my desire. Be safe! Study accounting or finance instead of unstable English! Save money. Buy a house. Get kids. 2 of them. 1 boy and 1 girl because that portends prosperity. Serve the Church! Advance the Kingdom! Here's what it looks like. Do the following activities because that's real Kingdom advancement and not this silly pretend stuff. Live for maximum impact on other people. If you don't want to do that, then you're resisting the Spirit of God.
Or so I thought.
If I close my eyes for a moment and imagine a life where most of my weekends and maybe 1 weekday a week was spent in the confines of a church, my heartbeat raises. I feel the artery in my neck pulsing. My diaphragm tightens. My hands clench and unclench and a wild, desperate anger swells in my gut. This is the frenzy of a cornered animal. I will kill whoever I have to kill to escape. You won't take my life this way. I refuse to go to the grave with this life. This isn't mine! Who took my life and gave me this sorry substitute?
I open my eyes again and my breath still doesn't calm down. The terror is too real. I know my values. I know my heart. They can't be found indoors. They're not found in group settings. I'm socially capable and I do recognize the need for regular social contact. But for me, I'd set my own upper tolerances at about once a week if the group is more than 3 or 4 people and meets regularly. It's not that I'm emotionally unavailable. I wear my heart on my sleeve and have no trouble opening up. The honest truth is that other people get in the way of what I want to do.
If I close my eyes and imagine my perfect death I know what I want to see. I'm old. The almond tree has blossomed but the heartwood remains vital. Back when I was much younger in the faith, I devoured Scripture with an appetite that surprises even me. When I came across Caleb's testimony I thought "Yes! That's what I want!"
"And now behold, I am this day eighty-five years old. I am still as strong today as I was in the day that Moses sent me; my strength now is as my strength was then, for war and for going and coming." -- Josh. 14:10-11Some old people impress me to no end. The septa- and sexagenarians that rocketed pass me on the Half-Ironman for starters. And then to maintain a mind with its full faculties and the flowering of experience while possessing a vital body would complete the package. Do you notice how when someone turns a vital age, 16, 21, 25, 30, 33, 35, 40, that the joke is "It's all downhill from here!" I don't believe that for a second. Life is all uphill. That means it's going to demand more and more energy the further I want to go. It's going to make me want to puke my guts out. And life will need more man than I am if I want to be appropriate to the challenge. The challenge of dying with a life free from regret.