Something happened last weekend that caused me to spend a bit more time than usual in quiet reflection.
You see, someone that I knew recently passed away. He wasn't an immediate family member, but I would consider him to be family. While I don't feel that I have a right to mourn him because I met him only a handful of times (and I certainly don't pretend to know what his family must be going through) - it surprised me just how deeply my heart ached when he passed, given that I could count on one hand the number of times we came into contact with one another.
I think that speaks volumes of the type of human being he was, given that he made such an impact in my life with having only a few short encounters. A true measure of the character anyone should aim to have while living their years out on this planet.
The first time I met him was in New York. A wedding had brought us both to the same city and I met him at a gathering for family and friends. He had almost a magical twinkle in his eye and the type of energy that draws you in, one that was honest, trustworthy and welcoming. Though it was the first time I met him, he immediately felt like family. (He would be soon enough, given that his son was engaged to my sister.)
He had this ability to make you feel both important and special when you spoke to him, as if when you spoke, you were the only person in the room. When he spoke his stories were filled with passion, excitement and enthusiasm as if he saw he life as one big beautiful gift and opportunity. He listened, and I mean really listened. Not like the majority of people who makes it very apparent they are focused less on what you are saying and more on what they'll contribute to the conversation as soon as you're finished. To be honest, I could have been talking about the ice cubes in my drink and he would have been fascinated - simply because he expressed genuine excitement, passion and interest for anything that you, yourself found interesting - a rare and special trait to possess in our current world of distraction and often self-serving tendencies. Regardless of the mutual love we both shared for his son and my sister, I was drawn to him because of his charisma, his charm, his curiosity and his compassion that he demonstrated towards everyone in the room.
It was evident where my future-brother-in-law had gotten these rare and special traits that I admired so much, and I looked forward to further getting to know the man - I felt - had so many more stories and lessons to share.
A year later, a new job opportunity brought me to the same city where he lived. I was working my way up in the corporate sector, (and knowing absolutely no one in the city) I decided to reach out to him to "pick his brain" and gain some wisdom as to how he thought I could work my way up in the industry. I heard he was as wise and successful as he was kind, and had a passion for networking and connection.
He agreed to meet with me over breakfast at a quant little restaurant near his home. The sky was overcast, it was raining and the streets were littered with damp leaves and puddles, yet the man bore a bright, warm and excited expression as we made our way through the doors. He pointed to a table by a window before stopping to share a smile and a handshake with some people he knew before settling into a seat and removing his hat. After ordering, he looked into my eyes with that same familiar twinkle and welcoming smile that I experienced in New York (an expression - I anticipated - could only be worn by someone living a life that was truly and irrevocably rich and full with love)
He started by apologizing for stopping at the tables to say hello. (As if kindness and compassion was something to apologize for) before beginning to share with me how he knew them. This of course, led to stories of other acquaintances, friends, and fascinating tales about his life, his family, his past and personal experiences that you would think could only be possible in movies. The stories and lessons he shared gave me a small snap shot into his character and life. It was evident that he treated the people around him with kindness, compassion and with nothing but the highest level of integrity. I got the sense that when he gave his word, made a commitment, and put his mind to something, he would give nothing short of 100% of himself to the cause. I gathered that he was one of those rare and special, "all or nothing" type of people. Not only in his career, but with his family, as a husband, a father, a friend, and clearly with every person he met judging by the number of people that would approach him in the restaurant simply to shake his hand, say hello (and in one man's case - walk past the restaurant and enthusiastically tap on the window to get his attention, with a grin that creased his face from ear to ear).
The man knew everyone it seemed - and even more inspiring - was that every greeting received was accompanied with a beaming smile - as if this man had touched their hearts the way he did mine. He treated every single person as if they were a member of his family, kind, welcoming and with a great level of compassion as if they were giving him the greatest gift, simply by crossing his path on that particular day.
He was fascinating, and I wanted to know more. I felt like a little child again listening to magical bed time stories before being tucked into bed - only they were all real.
The passion he had for life was evident, and the way he spoke of his wife and children was with love and pride so palpable - I almost felt like I was intruding on a special and intimate moment. I tried to picture my life several years from then, hoping that I would have a family that lit up my eyes and face the way his did, to him.
Eventually at the end of our conversation, it became apparent that he just recalled why we were sitting there in the first place. He had evidently got lost in time and in his stories as I did, and (apologizing again) asked what he could help me with. After regaining my thoughts, and expressing that I could listen to his stories forever - I shared with him some challenges that were coming up for me and after gazing out the window for just a few short seconds with a pensive expression he shared, "Sarah, if I could give you one piece of advice it would be to be patient. So many people your age want advancement, promotions, success and they want it right now, but they don't want to put in the work required to get there."
I was momentarily stumped. Being the impatient and entitled person that (looking back) I know that I was at that stage in my life, he gave me a lesson that was very needed, and rarely heard in our fast-paced and incredibly impatient society. Great things, great careers, great relationships and great people require hard work, commitment, self-discipline and resilience. When the going gets rough, I was often the person that got going. And it was apparent that if I wanted even half of the love, joy, passion, zest and enthusiasm that this man had for his family, his relationships, his work and the life he had built for himself, it would require a lot more work and patience than most people were willing to give.
So as a result, I find myself reflecting (even more than usual) on what's important in life, how I want to be remembered, the values I want to live my life by, the work I want to do and the person I want to be.
And I would ask the same to you: If you could fast-forward your life, hopefully many, many healthy years from today, what would you want your partner, spouse or child (even if they are yet to be born) to say while reading your eulogy at your funeral? What would you want to be remembered for? What does your legacy look like to you?
Like this man that touched my heart as I imagine he did for so many others, did you light up the room when you walked in? Did you make a positive impact on the lives of every person you met? Did you give your heart, soul and complete and utter attention to your loved ones when you spoke to them, or of them when they weren't around? Did you make the most of your life and live each day with honesty, integrity, commitment, dedication, hard work and passion? Did you leave a legacy (and not from a financial standpoint) for your loved ones and the people that you are to leave behind? Were you someone that people looked up to, respected, someone who others couldn't help but dropping whatever they were doing to simply smile and say hello, the second you walked in the room because you brightened there day, simply by being?
There's no bullet points, tips or tricks to take away from this message like my other posts. Only that I hope, if anything, this story reminds you (as it does for me) to remember, reflect and refocus on what's important in your life. To take the time to reevaluate your values, your relationships and your commitment to the person you want to be and the life you want to live. And that no amount of money, success, titles or achievements can compensate for the kindness, compassion, integrity, honesty and whole, pure and overwhelming love, that this man demonstrated to the people he came into contact with, and will forever be remembered for.