You have probably heard it said that we should think about our funeral while we are still living, envisioning our eulogy. What would others say about us? How would our spouse, children, and other loved ones describe us, and what would they say about the life we lived? The purpose of this is to change those things about us that we are not proud of (and I imagine most of us have them) while there is still time. I have thought about this a lot this week, remembering the Celebration of Life of a business colleague of my husband Mike’s that we attended last week. Paul O’Day passed away June 1, leaving behind 4 adult children, 13 grandchildren, and many friends. He left a powerful and positive legacy.
I knew Paul O’Day, having attended his meetings with Mike, who was on the board of the association of which Paul was the president for many years. I saw him as a warm, engaging, and friendly person. And per others who knew him much more intimately, he was these things, and so much more. Paul O’Day likely never needed to envision his funeral so he could make changes. I am reminded of the quote that aptly describes him, “Who you are speaks so loudly I can’t hear what you say.” In a two-hour celebration of his life, Paul O’Day’s family, friends, and business associates told with great consistency of the man who they knew and loved. I was amazed at the outpouring of affection for this man, and from people from many parts of his life. His words and actions obviously touched so many people.
I took notes during the celebration, wanting to remember this life well lived as a model for others of us. So, while this is about Paul O’Day, it is also about the rest of us, those of us who if we are reading this Blog still have time to be the person we want to be. Paul O’ Day’s life is now in the history books.
There were many words used to describe Paul O’Day, words such as Incredibly Humble, Highly Principled, Warm, Genuine, Dedicated, and Fun. Stories were told by many people of his love of reading, and more than one person said anytime you were with Paul, he would ask, “What book are you reading?” He gave his children and grandchildren books for their birthdays and other events. He was an intellect, knowledgeable about history, the arts, Shakespeare, and world events. The fact that Paul was the first in his family to graduate from high school may have been a motivating factor in him furthering his education, culminating in an honorary doctorate after earning a Masters’ degree from American University and a Juris Doctor from Georgetown University. He also received Georgetown University’s Constitutional Law Award. There were many other awards he received, and while all this is impressive, these degrees and awards are not what I will remember most about Paul O’Day.
What I will remember about Paul O’Day is that he was first and foremost about relationships, and not what those relationships could do for him, but what he could do for them. It was mentioned more than once that he was incredibly generous, always picking up the check. He was generous with his time and his connections, enjoying introducing others, truly expecting nothing in return.
I will also remember his optimism, the fact that no one mentioned him ever complaining about anything. His wife and his children told of his love, his celebrations, and his generosity. While they noted his accomplishments, they spend more time focusing on the wonderful man he was, the husband, father, and grandfather he was.
There is more that could be told about Paul O’Day, but he would want us to focus on others, on ourselves. While he would most likely be proud of his celebration, as he should be, he would undoubtedly care more about the people who came together, people who he cherished from different parts of his life. He would probably be more interested in what lessons (although he would probably not call them “lessons,” but maybe “messages”) can be gleaned from his life. There are more, but I will list three.
First, and by far the most important, is the importance of relationships. People matter more than degrees, financial assets, or positions of power. When it is all over for us, people will remember how we made them feel when we were in their presence. While ego gets a lot of media attention, humility matters more. There is no position power in the great beyond.
Secondly, we are one person, not two. There should be consistency in our personal and professional life. If we act with integrity in our business life and not in our personal life, others will not judge us as a person of integrity. I think about my husband as an example of this, and the number of times that he has told a server that he was undercharged. They are always surprised, and thank him for his honesty. That is integrity as important as a business dealing. Who we are speaks so much more loudly than what we say.
And finally, the impermanence of life. We can be healthy one minute, assuming our life will go on as we know it, only to be stopped by a disease that will shorten it. That happened to Paul O’Day, it seems to be happening to Senator John McCain, and it may be happening to some reading this. There are others of us, however, who have more time. Time to right wrongs, time to live without regret, and time to be the people we want to be, before it is too late.
It is decision time.