Monday, April 24th, 2006
On Living a Good Life
My godfather Bill died last week. He is among a group of friends my parents have known and stayed in contact with since their college days.
Throughout my childhood most of these friends lived within a few hours of each other. We saw them several times a year, usually for birthdays, camping trips and New Year’s Eve.
I have many memories of those gatherings. To this day I enjoy buttered Thomas’ English Muffins and cantaloupe scooped with a spoon because I first experienced them in Bill’s house on New Year’s Day.
For some reason never explained to me, these gatherings involved a piÃ±ata. I suppose it’s because there was always a ton of kids running around. Handy tip: never blindfold a child, hand him a long wooden pole and tell him to swing inside a garage lit by fluorescent tubes. Oh yes, it was a sight to behold.
I’ve taken stock of death (stock of life?) three times.
First, when my grandfather died. We knew he was dying and we shared
parting words. I regretted that my (senior year in high school) vision
for my future I shared with him didn’t remotely come to pass (I’m not a
computer programmer). I felt an obligation to stay true to his final view of the
Second, when my brother died at the age of 27 a few years later, married just seven months. My
(senior year of college) vision for my future shifted with the new
belief that where I lived was more important than where I worked. So
after establishing job prospects in a metropolis, I returned to a
job-scarce and economically depressed, but insanely beautiful area of
northern California to be with my equally beautiful girlfriend (now wife).
Third, when my daughter was born. Before I had a family I thought life
was all about experiences â€“ make mine good so that I leave this world
with great memories. You know, if my life is going to flash before my
eyes, be sure it’s a good show.
Now that I have a daughter, my life is for her… to ensure she has the
best opportunities to fulfill her dreams. It’s not that I’m
miraculously selfless now (I’m not); I just have a new first priority.
My Point Already
OK, so what does this have to do with my godfather?
First, Bill has three adult children. He got to see them grow up, become
successful and sprout grandchildren. I couldn’t conceive or value that
idea two years ago, but today it’s everything.
Second, when you reach a certain point in your life, you want assurances
of your immortality. It’s the ancient concept that you live forever
through your children. You influence their beliefs, attitudes, even
mannerisms. Something of you survives as each child matures into his or
her own unique being. Sage Whitney Houston was right. Children are our
Third, Bill is the same age as my parents. I haven’t fully processed
that yet… a blog posting for another day, perhaps. Oh now I’ve opened
a can of worms, and I don’t say that just because my mother is a
retired vermiculture specialist who reads this blog.
Fourth, in retirement, my godparents were traveling the countryside by RV,
soaking in great experiences while also visiting family and old
friends. They even made it out my way a few years ago, and I live six
hours from nowhere.
It stirs up this quote from Charles Van Doren at his 40th college class reunion:
"I remind you that according to Aristotle, happiness is not a feeling or
sensation but instead is the quality of a whole life. The emphasis is
on ‘whole,’ a life from beginning to end. Especially the end. The last
part, the part you’re now approaching, was for Aristotle the most
important for happiness. It makes sense, doesn’t it?"
In looking at the whole of Bill’s life, it was a happy one. A good one. I can only hope to be as fortunate.