I turned 50 this year. It seems that it was just a few years ago when I was in grammar school. Now things from my childhood are on the History Channel and I know far more people in the “Deaths” section in my college alumni newspaper than I do from the “Births and Weddings” section.
The end of another year is just around the corner and I can hardly believe it. As a child it seemed that Christmas would never arrive. The time between my last day of school before the holiday break and Christmas morning were never ending. Now I blink my eyes and the entire year is gone. It leaves me wondering what we have to show for those 365 days.
It was a memorable year in the world. An earthquake and subsequent tsunami killed nearly 16,000 people in Japan and also damaged a nuclear reactor. The country of Sudan, torn by genocide for years, finally resolved their differences and divided into two countries. In part of what became known as the Arab Spring, both Hosni Mubarak of Egypt and Muammar Gaddafi of Libya were dethroned and terrorist Osama bin Laden was killed by U.S. troops. In London, Prince William and Catherine Middleton were married.
Here in the U.S. we saw the conclusion of NASA’s space shuttle program with the final landing of the Atlantis, but also the beginning of a multi-year Mars program. Just days ago the last American flag was lowered in Iraq ending U.S. participation in that conflict after a decade of fighting. The economy continues to struggle and joblessness is still a major concern as candidates jockey for a position on the presidential ticket for next year.
These events summarize the year for me, but the older I get the more I realize many of those events had very little affect on me personally. I do not deny that international events can affect me, but what I find more meaningful these days at the end of the year is reflecting on events in my own little world from the year.
What happened in my life? Am I a better person than I was last year and have I reached the goals I set for myself in January? Will next December find me as basically the same person – no better, no worse – having accomplished nothing more than an endless string of days to and from work, to and from soccer practices, to and from the store…
My good friend Eddie often writes a letter to me at the end of the year summarizing our lives together for the previous twelve months. We’ve been friends for nearly three decades. As I read his words, it reminds me of the idiosyncratic nostalgia of a year in my world, but it also helps me to focus on what really mattered from the year.
We are stunned by the tsunamis and political changes from the year, but lives are most changed by our daily conversations with people we know – our workmates, the clerk at the gas station you see every week, and our children and spouses. The thank you notes we write and the preponderance of our attitudes in daily interactions is what makes us who we are and how people will remember us. Each interaction is like a brick in a wall that becomes our story.
As the year closes, I plan to write a letter to each of my children recapping the year. This is where life is most meaningful for me. When I’m 80 or 90 and look back on the years, I will remember wars, changes in presidencies, and notable world events, but those aren’t the things that will eventually be discussed at my funeral.
At my eulogy, nobody will say, “He was alive when Kennedy was assassinated” or “He watched the moon landing in 1969.” Instead, what will be discussed is the kind of father I was, if I was a thoughtful husband, and whether or not I was a good friend to people who knew me. Maybe they will say, “He always had time for people who needed him.” That won’t happen by accident.
These daily life-changing events are the ones that matter most and I would love to be able to look back at the end of each year and know that my existence has been meaningful to those around me, regardless of who is president, what royal got married, or what wars started or ended.
Gregory K. Moffatt, Ph.D.