A Life Well Lived

I leaned over and kissed his forehead.

It was ice cold, and I surprised myself with the gesture. 

I guess that’s what you do when words won’t suffice. I couldn’t tell him I loved him. I couldn’t tell him that I was sorry I didn’t see him when I was home for Christmas. And my mind felt too cluttered to pray. So I bent into the casket and kissed his forehead before tearfully walking away. 

My Uncle "Smitty" Clair, home from Vietnam. 

My Uncle "Smitty" Clair, home from Vietnam. 

During the funeral, the priest asked what it meant to say that we had a life well lived.

My brothers and cousins carried the casket to the front of the church, draped with the American Flag. My mom’s younger brother served his country in Vietnam, where he was exposed to horrors I’ll never know. He worked in the coal mines and later in the prison before living the final six years of his life crippled by a drunk driver. He was married to my godmother for 44 years. He was the best man in my parent’s wedding. 

He had only 67 years, but it was 67 years of a life well lived. That was evident by the stream of visitors who filled the funeral home to pay their respects. It was evident in the tears - from his 11 year old grandson to his 74 year old brother; by the eulogy that both of his kids struggled to get through. 

They spoke not of what he did, but of who he was. A father who taught them what it meant to be a good person, who inspired them, and who made them laugh. 

We strive every day for a life well-lived. I believe that all of us, whether we feel lost, confused or hopeless, ultimately want to feel that when it comes to the end, we’ve made the most of the time we’ve had. Even when the trials of life wear us out and beat us down, I believe that it’s the sincerest desire in all of our hearts to be the best version of ourselves that we can be. 

For the longest time, I thought that meant checking certain boxes. I thought that a life well lived was, at least for me, a college education, a master’s degree and authoring a book. I thought that a life well lived was more about what I did than who I was. I thought that legacy was doing something big that landed you in the history books, or these days, with a Wikipedia page. 

Sometimes I still think that. 

In the end there are no checkboxes for what really matters. There’s no place to mark how much you loved - how much you made others laugh - the way you made other people feel. There is no measuring stick for touching another person’s life. 

At least I guess, there are kisses on the forehead when words will not suffice.