We are standing together, even as the long line stretches out the door, snaking around one corner and then further back into the spacious funeral home chapel. Our feet ache from our high-heeled shoes, but we are both so intent on seeing each and every person that places their warm hand into ours so as to offer comfort that we hardly notice this minor inconvenience. These traditions are a beautiful way to honor a life, and we are both so touched by the heartfelt words we have just been privy to hearing. We are so moved by the many, many words: words of comfort, words of concern and words of joy at the ways in which lives have been touched by our own dear Loved One.
Words of hope.
He was a dear husband. A beloved father and grandfather. A brother, uncle, friend; Boss and co-worker, neighbor- among many other more diverse roles. But for today, he is just Loved. Our Loved One. Each person that comes through the processional line shares a different memory with the theme woven throughout each and every sentiment of the kindness he displayed as he lived out his life. Even the funny stories bring about a torrent of tears- we are bound together by our humanity, even in our baser moments. These words- they heal us. Words mean so much.
Harold Hazen Gard.
He was a humble man. A man of the land. A hard-working man. A family man. A man of faith in the God he served. Just an ordinary man. And yet, his story reveals a life lived out of a reserve of extraordinary love, patience, kindness and caring. This is no ordinary feat.
As I stand there absorbing the impact of all these heart-warming words, she leans toward my ear and whispers these additional profoundly moving words proffered about her father: “It doesn’t matter what you did for work, what line of employment you were in; it matters how you lived your life.”
It matters. It does indeed. And within our human connectedness, what matters the most is something so simple it can almost be overlooked. Something so ordinary in its application that its intense impact can be disregarded. It is simple, but not easy. Unpretentious, yet so difficult to maintain. That’s the thing about kindness: it seems basic. Yet its impact is astronomical. And the ways in which our interactions are affected by its absence are profound. In this life, amongst all our human relationships both intimate and otherwise, what matters beyond all else is that we are authentically kind to one another. Kind, in each and every encounter we undertake.
Because, Friend: here’s the thing. Someday someone will recall back to the time you offered them a caring shoulder to lean on; will recall that you saw the best in them when no one else could find the strength. They will recall that instead of acting in anger, you acted in love; will recall that you were tender, were compassionate and merciful. They will remember you for your genuine concern about their welfare. They will remember you for your caring.
Someday, someone will recall back to your connection with them. And they will recall that you reached out to them in their time of need. They will remember that you offered them hope when they were desolate. That you extended them a warm welcome when they felt estranged. They will remember that you placed them first above their own needs. Because someday: someone will recall you. And they will either remember you for your kindness- your caring, your love, your understanding, your compassion, your mercy. Or they will not.
It’s as simple as that.
I have come to the startling realization at forty-one years of age- with two degrees and a third nearly gained; with a full-time job and many professional recommendations. With a beautiful house and acreage- and the toys and trinkets to boot. I have come to realize: none of this really matters. Because it doesn’t matter a hill of beans how high you have climbed the ladder in the corporate world- how much you have acquired. Nor does it matter how simple your expectations might be in this life. It doesn’t matter what successes your have seen to or what failures you have been prone to. At the end of your life, when you lie on your own deathbed and your loved ones are gathered round, what matters is how you have lived your life. That’s it. And if you have lived life compassionately- with caring and kindness, you have done life well.
Everyone can be kind. It’s something we all can choose to do as we live this life. We all have that available option at our disposal: the choice to show kindness. To be kind with every part of our being. Radiating love to the people we meet.
At the end of the day, it’s what people will remember most about us when we’re gone.
It’s our kindness and caring that people remember more than anything.