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‘What People Will Say About You When Your Life Is Over’

Good Morning. We recently started a family. This week one of the kids graduated from University. Where do the years go?

Many schools broke up for summer yesterday – young people are waiting for results or looking for work. You remember when that was you, you notice how quickly the days pass, how soon your time will be up.

And you look at the news this past few days and realize that nothing is certain. You suppress a feeling of dread at how fragile everything is, how ordinary lives can be torn apart by catastrophe.

So a letter from Headteacher Rachel Tomlinson, to children leaving her Lancashire primary school this week, was inspiring. She praised her Year 6 pupils for their results but reminded them that academic tests measure only a part of who they are.

The people who mark those tests, she wrote, don’t know that ‘your friends count on you to be there for them’
or that
‘sometimes you take care of your little brother or sister after school’
or ‘that you can be trustworthy, kind or thoughtful.’

There are many ways of being smart, she concluded.
Or, to put it another way – there are many ways of living a good life.

The American author David Brooks makes a distinction between resume virtues and eulogy virtues.

Resume virtues, he says, are how you did in those tests, the evidence of your skillbase, what you bring to work as a grown up.

But eulogy virtues – these are different. This is what people will say about you when your life is over.

At your funeral no-one will mention your exam results. The hours you spent at work – your title or salary. People will remember a different edition of your life.

‘He loved playing with his kids…’ ‘She’d always stand up for others…’

Maybe they’ll say: ‘She was generous and patient…’
‘He was loyal and brave…’ ‘She always listened and was so discreet…’

Eulogy virtues are hard to measure, but easier to witness.
They’re not about your qualifications in life but the quality of your life.
They are a glue that hold families and friendships together – that help us negotiate life’s toughest tests.

A good eulogy paints a picture of someone who recognised their human flaws – and tried to face them down.
Are we mean or consumed with envy? Do we hold grudges? Do we ever shut up and let others speak? Can we forgive?

As families mourn those they’ve lost on Flight MH17, one image stood out.
A memory of a brilliant pioneer in AIDS research. His friend recalled how ‘often times he was cooking for his five girls while on conference calls discussing HIV’.

A snapshot of a good life. ‘Teach us to number our days,’ says the Psalmist, ‘That we may apply our hearts to wisdom.’

In a time when world leaders struggle to wage peace and foster friendship, our hope lies in young people with the courage, compassion and character to do it in theirs.