Last night I read obituaries. That’s not a usual activity for me. But at 1:30am my stomach was sour, so I sat at the kitchen counter eating dry Rice Chex and flipping through the quarterly magazine from one of my alma maters.
I read about Wesley, Werner, and Wilbur. Lola, Lorraine, and Leon. But it was the one about Harold that made me stop shoveling rice squares into my mouth.
It wasn’t that his occupation was particularly interesting, although I can imagine as a cattle rancher he’d have some good stories to tell.
His age, while mentioned, wasn’t what stood out either. At 88 he couldn’t claim to be the youngest (46 years) or oldest (101 years).
Many of the obituaries included the person’s accreditations and awards. Harold’s was no exception; he was certified as a public accountant.
It was the last sentence that stood out to me: “He leaves a legacy of…”
What kind of thing is a person remembered for at the end? After 88 years, I’m sure there was plenty to pick from.
Successes and failures.
Joys and sorrows.
Happy adventures and horrific accidents.
Mistakes, missteps, and things still mysterious.
Lessons learned the hard way.
Lessons learned too late.
Words worth repeating and others that should have never been uttered.
Yet the final summation of his life made no mention of any tangible triumphs or tragedies, just simply that Harold “provided for his family.”
So then what is his legacy?
“He leaves a legacy of integrity, gentleness and generosity.”
Gentleness. He leaves a legacy of gentleness.
I bow my head over my empty cereal bowl as awe washes over me.
In this – a loud, obnoxious, belligerent century – he found a gentler way.
When others dug in their heels, he was softhearted.
Where others were quick and cat-like, he was tempered and dove-like.
What others saw as opportunities to fight, he saw as opportunities to be tender.
To those who say the ends justify the disagreeable means, he reminds us that without love—which is patient, kind, and always protective—we are just another clanging cymbal.
And one more cymbal is not what the world needs. Have we not had enough crashing and clashing to convince us it doesn’t yield a peaceful melody?
Maybe Maya Angelou was right when she said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”
Maybe we, maybe I, can seek to replace hard with soft, sharp with tender, and irritable with irregular gentleness. Because if we are diligent in this task, it’s quite possible that in the end, someone will write our obituaries to say:
“She leaves a legacy of gentleness.”
Let your gentleness be evident to all.
The Lord is near.
Forgive me, O LORD, for the times when I am far from being gentle. When I’m quick to speak and slow to listen. When I don’t want to pause long enough to allow empathy to precede the stating of my opinion. When my desire for a quick result overwhelms a gentler, more fruitful approach. Teach me, O LORD, to live my life in such a way that I’ll be remembered for characteristics of Jesus, not the least of which is gentleness.