Last week I attended a double memorial service at Arlington National Cemetery to celebrate the lives of Jim and Sally Paxton — close family friends who played a pivotal role in my life growing up.
A dynamic duo, the Paxtons were full of life, energy, and an open invitation to drop all your worries, grab a beer and float your cares away in their beautiful backyard pool. Still madly in love in their eighties, it felt fitting to lay them to rest as a couple after losing them both over the course of last year.
As always, death invites reflection and contemplation into our lives. In this case, here are two life lessons I took away from my most recent dance with what will inevitably happen to each of us.
Life Lesson #1: Surround yourself with older and wiser people.
When navigating one’s way through the professional world, it’s practically mandatory to seek out the humans who are card-carrying members of the wisdom, experience and perspective club. You know them as mentors. And if you’re fortunate enough to have some good ones in your life, then you know the immense R-E-L-I-E-F that comes from tapping into the perspective of those who have already figured out what matters in life.
It makes me want to exhale just thinking about it.
I would argue that the same need exists, but is often overlooked, in your personal life as well. We all need access to elders — the grandmothers, grandfathers, family friends, churchgoers and neighbors who are wise enough to know that nobody goes to their grave wishing they’d spent more time on their to-do list.
Jim and Sally Paxton taught me that work can wait, family comes first and there’s nothing better than sitting around the pool with a stiff drink laughing and talking with the people you love.
When it comes to your own life, let’s be honest, you probably don’t need any more friends your own age because you likely can’t even keep up with the ones you already have. I say, aim older!
Make an effort to surround yourself with people who can reduce your tendency to lose your mind over your colleague’s micromanaging ways, your son’s obsession with dirt, or your daughter’s inability to clean her room.
For example, the other day I was complaining to my 93-year-old grandfather about once getting seasick on a cruise ship and he told me it was OK — that he was seasick the entire time he was on an aircraft carrier fighting the Japanese during WWII, and he made it through.
Excellent point, my friend.
Life Lesson #2: Never forget your ultimate destination.
The most shocking revelation during my trip to Arlington National Cemetery was the sobering reality that one day we’ll all end up in a box. That’s right— just like Jim, whom everyone called “The King,” and Sally, a benevolent mother to four boys — you’re working your way towards the same destination.
You in a box.
So, my question to you is this: If the picture above represents your ultimate destination, then why wait another day to be happy? Why stay in a job that makes you miserable? Why hang out with friends who bring you down? Why yell at yourself all day long for not being a better mother, when deep down you know you’re doing a damn good job?
One day it’ll all be over and your never-ending to-do list, spotless volunteer record at your son’s school, and relentless efforts to do, accomplish and be more will be rendered useless.
The people you love will be standing around your box singing “Amazing Grace,” and wouldn’t you RIP a lot easier knowing that you arrived at your happy place long before you arrived in your final resting place?
Stop putting off what makes you happy because you’ve convinced yourself it’s selfish. It’s not. It’s your life and you’ve only got one shot.
My hope for you is that you’ll show up to your box knowing you figured out what mattered most in life and went after it with gusto without holding yourself back along the way.
Why wait to learn these lessons later in life when you can learn them now?