This past week, my family held a reunion at Jekyll Island. My children, spouses, and grandchildren — all twenty of us — came together for five fun-filled days on this Georgia Gem of a barrier island. We had a blast. Following our clan’s visit to Driftwood Beach, my wife and I snuck away for a few minutes to check out some of the historical landmarks. We came across the ruins of the first home built on the island. Nearby, a small family cemetery caught our eyes.
There engraved on the stone tomb of Marie Felicite Riffault, December 14, 1776 – April 6, 1852, I discovered the following remarks,
“Not only good and kind, but strong and elevated was her mind, Fond to oblige, too feeling to offend. Beloved by all, to all a good friend. And faithful to her God.”
Reading this legacy of words about this heretofore unknown woman of the late 18th and early 19th century, reminded me of a commentary I read some years ago by Eric Metaxas, titled “Building Your Resume or Your Character? Going Deep with David Brook.” (1) This fascinating reflection focused on comments by New York Times columnist David Brooks about our cultural tendency to obsess on resume virtues “accumulating power, wealth, and professional achievements” rather than seek eulogy virtues — “the kinds of qualities that will be discussed at our funerals.”
This article prompted a few reflections of my own.
One of the most challenging things a person will ever have to do is to prepare and deliver a Eulogy; it is also one of the most rewarding experiences in your life. What an honor it is to be asked to deliver a Eulogy.
I speak from experience.
In the past 14 years, I have had the privilege to stand before grieving family and friends and deliver a Eulogy on eight separate occasions. I can say without hesitancy, the best eulogies (and the ones easiest to prepare) are those about lives of good character and strong faith, about people who treasured significance over ambition and about people, who in the words of the Baptist preacher, Charles Spurgeon, will be remembered for carving their name on hearts, not on marble.
Now a personal confession…
Once after delivering a Eulogy, a friend approached and complimented my remarks and asked if when the time came, I would do his Eulogy. The temptation was too great, and I remarked, “Sure Bob (not his real name). I will be glad to deliver your Eulogy, but you will have to give me more to work with!” My insensitive attempt at humor produced the expected laughter from him and those standing nearby. However, I soon regretted my remarks, and after humbly apologizing, I expressed how honored I would be to deliver his Eulogy.
That embarrassing exchange from years ago came to mind as I read the inscription on the tomb of Marie Felicite Riffault and recalled the commentary written by Eric Metaxas. Who am I to question the eulogy virtues of another? For that matter, what legacy am I leaving? Do I settle for the shallowness of this life, or do I yearn for deeper things?
In recent years I have had the opportunity to take some reflective walks through cemeteries. In this age of iPods, iPhones, iPads, and multi-tasking, such contemplative uninterrupted moments are more than just a diversion. Such visits, for me at least, have become much like a visit to the Optometrist – a moment when all things come clearly into focus. These quiet sojourns are a reminder, a humbling reminder that life eternal will be a life lived beyond these fleshly temples…where the eulogy virtues matter far more than anything on a resume.
Maybe now you can understand why reading the words on a 167-year-old tombstone prompted yet another written reflection of my own…and why I share it with you now. So log off Facebook, put down the iPhones, and spend some quiet time alone. Be still. Contemplate. You may finally hear the God who is there as He whispers your name and reminds you, as He did me, of the virtues that matter.
Go deep my friend, go deep.