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Reflecting on mortality provides perspective for one’s legacy

There was an article in the Wall Street Journal recently about a new trend in the DIY movement: building one’s own coffin. Having gone to college in William Faulkner’s hometown, I couldn’t help but think of his novel “As I Lay Dying,” where the deathly ill Addie sits in the window watching her firstborn child, Cash, build her coffin.

This might all seem a bit morose, but I do think there’s some healthy reflection in there as well. One of my favorite authors, Robert Fulghum, spends a morning each year pulling up a chair on his burial plot, and ponders his past, present and future. It is a sobering way to put yourself in “time out” and makes you think about some weighty stuff.

I’ve been to several funerals lately … more than usual, it seems. I don’t know if I can say I “enjoy” funerals, but always find them interesting and, many times, uplifting. They are as different as the people they honor.

One recent one lasted all of 20 minutes — short, to the point and very efficient … as was the one eulogized. Another recent one might still be going on. I had to leave as the third hour started. It was jubilant, loud and, oh my, celebratory!

I revisit my dog-eared copy of Stephen Covey’s “Seven Habits” periodically. I think his work is as relevant today as it was when it first came out. “Begin with the end in mind” is the exact right place to start. What would we want friends and family to say at our funeral? Are we seeking titles or testimony?

As I have mentioned before, a poem by Michael Weber hangs on my wall in my office, given to me by a dear friend. Titled “Fine Art of Paying Attention,” it reads, in part:

… It will not matter what you owned,
or were owed

It won’t matter where you come from or
where you end up

What will matter is not what you bought,
but what you built

Not what you got,
but what you gave

Not what you learned,
but what you taught

Not your success,
but your significance

Not your competence,
but your character

What will matter is how long you will be remembered,
by whom and for what …

There’s a time-worn story of two old men sitting at the back of the church where the funeral of their friend is underway. Both hard of hearing, one says a bit loudly to his buddy: “I wonder what old Artie left behind?”

“All of it, Vinnie. All of it,” came the reply.

From our earliest moment as mere toddlers when we scribbled on the wall with crayon and marveled at what we created, there is a human desire to leave something behind. Testimony is something to strive for, but even that fades. We can leave an even more lasting legacy that can go on giving forever, and help provide significance in perpetuity.

We often say we’re in the “forever” business. We’d welcome the opportunity to help you with your forever, too.

Brian Fogle is the President and CEO of the Community Foundation of the Ozarks.

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