There is a common (some might say overused) question in the motivation/life coaching industry. In the coaching genre, it is often asked to get the coachee to think about their legacy, trying to boil it down into as few words as possible.
“What do you want on your tombstone?”
Now many of you are thinking of frozen pizza and the kitschy commercials from the 1990s, so take a second to indulge your memories and then read my sad tale:
I observed a Dickensonian tale this past week. A man passed away in the middle of the night and it was, sadly, a story of Ebenezer Scrooge with the Ghost of Christmas Yet To Come. “why wasn’t he natural in his lifetime? If he had been, he’d have had somebody to look after him when he was struck with Death, instead of lying gasping out his last there, alone by himself.” (Dickens, 1847)
When he was a young man, he had a wonderful voice, he appeared on television, made a few records (called vinyls nowadays) and toured with a gospel quartet. He had the trappings of success. Not superstardom, but successful nonetheless. A wife, a child, a house in a fine neighborhood with an in-ground pool in the back yard. He was a handsome man, outgoing and seemingly caring. But fame is fleeting and by middle age he was an ordinary person again, working a normal job in a small town. He still attracted people to him, but it was a facade.
His children tell of a man who was physically and verbally abusive. He wasn’t miserly as he had no great wealth to speak of, but rather, he was an insecure, anxious man who lashed out with anger and violence when he felt threatened. He likely had Narcissistic Personality Disorder and if he had been a patient of mine, I would have given him that diagnosis. Few knew the dark side of him and in the end, he died alone. No tears were shed, no funeral service, a quick cremation of the body and it was done.
It didn’t have to be this way and for me, that is the sad part of the story. This man never understood Dickens’ message. “Men’s courses will foreshadow certain ends, to which, if persevered in, they must lead,” said Scrooge. “But if the courses be departed from, the ends will change. Say it is thus with what you show me!” (Ibid). He couldn’t see his fear, his insecurities, his anger. His outbursts were always someone else’s fault. They had wronged him and he was justified in his response.
Observing this sad tale over the past week, I realize that I could become a version of this person. Perhaps not abusive, as that is not my personality, but self-centered, judgmental, critical of others. It is easy to forget Jacob Marley’s admonishment, “Mankind was my business. The common welfare was my business; charity, mercy, forbearance, and benevolence, were, all, my business. The dealings of my trade were but a drop of water in the comprehensive ocean of my business!” (Ibid)
Who do you want to be? Scrooge at the beginning of the tale or Scrooge at the end?
I doubt you will be visited by Spirits to reveal your destiny, yet if you open yourself to feedback, you will have loved ones around you as you leave this world.
More on that next time.