In yesterday’s article, we established that in order to pursue for ourselves a life that holds personal, satisfying meaning, we need to take a few steps back and start intentionally defining what we want that life to look like.
We said that our Ideal Life was like a puzzle, maybe even multiple puzzles, the pieces of which are all dumped on a very large table for us to sift through. When we know what the puzzle we want to complete looks like, when we have the box cover for that puzzle, it becomes easier to start to work on that puzzle. We can reject the pieces that don’t belong to our puzzle (even if they do seem interesting, even tempting), and start, piece by piece, little corner by little corner and section by section, assembling the puzzle.
Obviously, this metaphor has flaws. I mean, sometimes, life throws us curve balls (mine are shaped like little boys and they talk very very loudly). Those little scalawags who showed up in my life six and almost five years ago respectively were not on the puzzle box cover I would have imagined for myself even ten years ago. Even now, I sometimes struggle to fit their presence into my puzzle. But they represent a very meaningful redesign of the image on my puzzle box cover.
Redesigns are legit and necessary.
Designing our Ideal Life
I have spent years imagining what I wanted my life to look like. When I first started imagining my Ideal Life, back when I was a teenager, it was very much about what I wanted to do. This is totally legit, too, and it has a very important function as we face adulthood. Knowing what we want to do can, if we are motivated and have the right connections, help us select our summer jobs, university studies, career paths. It can help us select our mate, where we want to live, where we want to work. Totally, totally legit.
There comes a day for many of us, however, when we realize that knowing what we want to do doesn’t satisfy. Or, what we thought we wanted was misguided.
For me, even the very good things I wanted to do and that I did do didn’t satisfy anymore.
What I needed was to determine who I wanted to be.
I’d take a funeral over a wedding any day…
I know that is a controversial statement. To be slightly more specific and less morbid, I’d take the funeral of someone elderly who had all of his health and his mind, who died peacefully in his sleep over a wedding any day. I prefer to celebrate a life well-lived than attend an arbitrary cultural ritual which seeks to whitewash the uncertainty and fickleness of love. Debate me.
As I have mentioned before, I am a funeral singer. I am frequently called upon to sing a classical piece of music at funerals, a gig which I accept always with great seriousness. I have sung at just about any kind of funeral you can imagine, including a biker funeral, at which representatives of every biker gang in France were in attendance, the funeral of small child who drowned in a tragic accident and the funeral of a father and son who died in unrelated incidents the same week.
I have attended many, many, many funerals. You may think, if you aren’t a funeral connoisseur, that when people get up to talk about the defunct, they only have nice things to say. Let me debunk that for you. I have sat through a number of public excoriating discourses by the family of the dead, spoken with cold hostility at a casket.
Some funerals are more memorable than others. Ones like the above are funerals I wish I could forget.
There are a few that stick in my thoughts, though, and in a good way. The one where the deceased’s quiet arrangement with one member of the family was that his casket be walked out of the chapel to a New Orleans jazz version of “Oh When the Saints…” He was a man known for his sense of humor. He had everyone laughing to the very last.
The humble man, who chose, while he was living, the very simplest pine casket. We all had been touched by his humility while he was alive, and here he was, reminding us of it as we said goodbye.
The generous, thoughtful woman whose funeral could have lasted for a week, had every single person who had been a recipient of her generosity in some way been given even one single minute to tell their story.
What will they say about me at my funeral?
It’s not dark to ask yourself that question. If anything, it is one of the most enlightening, honest questions we can ask ourselves.
My children would probably say that I was more interested in keeping to the schedule than actually connecting with them, but I also think that they would admit I had saintly patience with their temper tantrums
My husband, who has known me for twenty-five years, probably wouldn’t have much to say about me, a fact which saddens me even now as I think about it. He might, though, wear a neck brace to signify all the ways in which I gave him whiplash over the years.
My musician friends would say that I was effervescent and talented. My normal friends would say that I was authentic and not afraid to own up to my faults.
What would I want them to say at my funeral?
This is the question which, I truly believe, is the foundational place to start as we try to imagine our Ideal Life.
Honestly, I don’t want to be remembered for being more interested in keeping to our schedule than connecting with my boys.
I would rather be remembered for my sense of humor than being effervescent or talented. I do want to be remembered for being authentic and unafraid to be honest about my shortcomings.
And I truly want my husband to remember me for being a woman of great industriousness and resourcefulness, not as the one whose mood swings gave him whiplash.
I believe that what we would want the people we love to say at our funeral is like the edge pieces of our puzzle. Those are the character traits we want to be remembered for.
Those character traits are what my indulgent philosopher husband and I call virtues.
Playing the virtue game
The pursuit of virtue–unpopular, uncool a topic as it is– I believe forms the external contours of our Ideal Life. That is why I won’t stop covering this topic. It is why I want you to go back and look at the list of virtues here and see which words speak to you.
Which virtues do you want to have as the edge pieces to the puzzle of your life? Pick those out. Examine what they mean to you. Think about how you can start to start assembling the puzzle of your life in a way that puts those virtues to work.
Let me head off that objection I can hear forming in your thoughts: “But I’ll never be perfect.”
No, no you won’t. And neither will I. I will struggle with my pride and my ostrich brain and my self-centeredness, probably until the day I die. You may struggle with your temper, your inability to listen or your desire for solitude until the day you die.
The point is not to make us perfect by eliminating what makes us awful human beings. The point is to decide the good things we want to be remembered for, and then making it our life’s work that people remember us that way.
A three-day overview of the (non-exhaustive) list of virtues from which I propose you start picking out the edge pieces for your life.