(HOST) Recently, commentator John Killacky has been contemplating deep
philosophical questions – while reading the daily newspaper.
Learning of the death of a dear colleague got me thinking about how a
life is remembered, so I spent last month reading obituaries in The New
York Times and Burlington Free Press.
If you want to be
eulogized in the Times, it helps to be in the entertainment industry.
More than one-third of the death notices featured luminaries: television
and radio exec’s, superstar managers, record label founders, opera,
gospel, and heavy metal singers, child actors, songwriters, filmmakers,
Sports stars were also favored, with 10% of the
notices. There were figures from horse racing, basketball, tennis,
boxing, football, and a Boston Marathon winner. Almost as popular, were
civic leaders who defied the Nazis, opposed nuclear power plants,
infiltrated the Ku Klux Klan, negotiated peace in Northern Ireland, and
were civil rights and AIDS activists.
and spies ranked just above writers and visual artists at 4%. Less
prominent were doctors and educators, as well as entrepreneurs who
founded drug companies, cheese steak restaurants, sold soap, and
popularized cigars and motorcycles.
But obituaries in the Free
Press were markedly different, both in tone and style. Family and
friends penned these, not journalists. Schooling, military service, and
occupations introduced each post, but more prominent was whom a person
loved and who loved the deceased. After all, these are written in loving
memory by those left behind.
Hobbies and community engagement
were highly valued in these pages. I was touched to read about church
and volunteer activities, as well as free-time pursuits: hunting,
fishing, cooking, gardening, bowling, cars, and horses.
New York Times wrote about iconic larger than life figures. However,
the hyper-local perspectives of the Free Press gave me more insight into
the lives fully lived here.
It seems to me that whom we love and
whom we serve resonate most deeply when describing a legacy. Helping
your neighbor and contributing to a greater common good seem more
important than how much we accumulate. The essence of a life well lived
is not power, but love and generosity.
Vermonters doing everything they can to help with flood
relief have certainly demonstrated this. Providing food and shelter, bringing animal feed, raising
dollars jointly, helping to restore homes, offices, libraries, and barns is just a small sampling of extraordinary intentional acts
of kindness. There have been some grand gestures, but most people are
simply lending a helping hand, doing what they can.
volunteering in cleanup duties to larger efforts like the PHISH and
Grace Potter benefit concerts and other fundraising efforts on behalf of
Vermont Disaster Relief, the citizens of our state are sharing whatever
resources they can, not for aggrandizement and acknowledgement, but
because it’s the right thing to do – the best kind of legacy.