Sometimes I wonder how I will know that I have lived well. How will I be able to measure my days, when they have come to an end? How does a person assess her own worth, figure her true value, determine the sum total of all that her life has achieved?
I’m very lucky, because I have one sure way to measure the value of my time on earth.
I will measure it against the life that my father lead while he was here with us.
My father was a special person.
He wasn’t rich, not by a long shot. I have great memories of my parents saving pennies in a jar so they could take us on vacation every summer. I remember the sense of luxury we felt when we went out for pizza every few months, the whole huge crowd gathered around the table at “Kitty’s”. We were anything but “rich”!
My father wasn’t famous. He wasn’t known beyond his own circle of family and work and neighbors. He didn’t have “fans”.
But the thing is, he was deeply admired and loved by just about everyone who knew him.
My father was fair. He was honest. He listened and he asked good questions. He remembered people, and asked about their families and their lives. He shared what he had. He made people laugh.
He wasn’t afraid to be silly; I remember him dancing the “Pogo” at one cousin’s wedding, bouncing across the dance floor in his three piece suit. He played with his kids. He sat on the floor, long after he should have stopped, to bounce his grandchildren on his knees and to hold them aloft on his bent legs to play “airplane”.
He was firm, and sometimes a little rigid. The world to him was clear and unambiguous. To Dad, “right” was “right” and “wrong” was “wrong”. There were no excuses and there was no gray area. He held all of us to the same high standards that he held for himself.
My father knew how to love. He was a loyal friend. He loved his family beyond all measure, and we always knew that. He loved my mother as much on the day that he died as he did on the day they met, some sixty years before. And he let her know it every single day.
How can I measure the value of my own life?
I will measure it by the grief that my siblings and I feel today, on what would have been Dad’s 85th birthday. More than three years after his death, I still feel my father beside me every day. I hear his laughter, I see his face, I feel the warm strength of his embrace.
A life has been a success, I think, when it leaves behind it a sense of loss and a sense of blessing, all at once. My father has surely left both. His absence is a gaping hole in all our lives. His blessings are seen in the way that we have learned to love each other and our own families. They are found in the lessons that he taught us about facing our worst fears with grace and courage.
When Dad’s wake was held, the line to pay respects stretched outside the funeral home, across the parking lot and into the lot next door. The people who knew him waited for almost two hours for a chance to say goodbye.
That is my measure of a life well lived.
Happy Birthday, Dad. Thank you.