Greetings from Washington, D.C. where we’re all tuckered out from the excitement caused by former Trump Organization attorney Michael Cohen’s nearly eight hours of public testimony before the House Oversight Committee. On Wednesday, the day of the hearing, Capitol Hill saloons opened during breakfast hours to welcome throngs of thirsty politics junkies.
Oh, how I love this city!
Earlier this week, Washington Post obituary writer Adam Bernstein chronicled the life of the late Jim Nicholson, a journalist with the Philadelphia Daily News who established the practice of writing epic obituaries of everyday people.
Nicholson’s death got me thinking about my father’s passing in mid-January when it fell to me — the writer in the family — to draft his obituary. The words came easily, because, writing about Arnie Smolen, I quickly discovered that he had indeed lived a truly meaningful life. Among Arnie’s many accomplishments, he earned a stellar reputation among peers and clients in representing the American contemporary furniture trade.
Could our own lives rise gloriously to meaningfulness? I believe that if we set about the task of writing our own obituaries we surely would find out. But even if most of us hate writing, because we feel that we don’t do it well or we are too perfectionistic to try, a basic pen-to-paper memorialization of all the merited things that we have done would easily determine if we have lived meaningfully or have not.
Some of the greatest obituaries published describe ordinary people who, when alive, did some truly extraordinary things:
Anna Mary Robertson Moses, known as Grandma Moses, lived in obscurity until she discovered painting at the age of 78; quickly, she gained a global reputation for painting primitive-style works-on-canvas depicting rural American life. She died in 1961 at the age of 101. In 2006, one of her works, Sugaring Off, sold at auction for $1.2 million.
During one overnight in June 1972, a young building security guard named Frank Wills discovered that the front door to the Democratic National Committee offices in the Watergate Complex was forced open, its latch taped into the door frame to prevent it from locking burglars lurking inside the office space. He died in 2000 at age 52. Without him and his discovery, would “Watergate” have happened?
Gene Sharp, a Bostonian known for cultivating rare orchids, was inspired by Mahatma Gandhi to lead a life of non-violent civil disobedience. He died in 2018 at the age 90. Quietly, Sharp inspired the formation of non-violent resistance movements that toppled several dictatorships across the globe.
So, grab a pen and a piece of paper, my friends, and jot it all down. If you have lived a life of meaningfulness — that’s included doing meaningful work — then congratulations. Keep at it! If you haven’t, take pause and consider the passions that simmer deep within you to make the world a better place, and, commit to doing meaningful work — work that is profound, protects the planet, helps people, and is fun to do.
Strange as it seems, writing our own obituaries can — and will — get us to a wonderful place doing meaningful work.
Our best days lie ahead.
DAN SMOLEN is executive producer and host of the podcast, The Tightrope with Dan Smolen. Listen and subscribe to us by keywording “The Tightrope with Dan Smolen” on Apple Podcasts. Also, please rate us and offer suggestions for future guests and topics.
Photo credit: Starlings Taking Flight, iStock Photo.