Great lives offer us a yardstick by which to measure our own.
Barbara Bush's funeral service was a fresh reminder of that truth. The tributes to her were touching, soaring, funny, heartfelt.
As I listened, three words jumped out at me so strongly that I grabbed a pen to write them down. These were the words I wanted to remember:
She was selfless.
She built a cohesive family.
She lived a consequential life.
Those words captured my attention as beacons, as directional markers. Three not-so-commonly used words that we need now more than ever.
Start with selfless. I wonder how many people know what this old-fashioned word means. Might they think that 'selfless' is a 'selfie' gone bad, where you missed your shot and ended up with a picture of the floor?
'Selfless'-- to be concerned more with the needs and wishes of others than with one's own--feels at odds with our culture of self-promotion and self-actualization. It's not that people have stopped practicing selflessness. Putting the needs of others before yourself is built into parenthood. Selflessness is part of volunteering your time. It underscores the tiny interactions of everyday life. But hearing that word used to eulogize Mrs. Bush reminded me of its importance, its corrective power against the selfie culture. It's a word that deserves respect, elevation.
Barbara Bush built a cohesive family. Cohesive- I love that word! A cohesive family is unified. It sticks together. Cohesiveness doesn't rely on love. It reaches for something that transcends the ups and downs of feelings. A cohesive family is in it for the long haul. Its glue withstands bumps. Such a family allows breathing room. Its members give each other space for difference. Where love can fracture, cohesion can stretch.
Unfortunately, in many families there are personalities, circumstances, and other factors that make cohesion impossible. Thus, the building of a cohesive family is all the more noteworthy. It's aspirational and inspirational, a stunning achievement.
The first two words lead straight to the third word, consequential. A consequential life is a life of significance, a life that mattered, a life that made a difference.
In a culture that exalts celebrity, it's easy to think that the sure path to a consequential life is to be famous. Although Mrs. Bush was indeed famous, it was not her fame that made her life consequential but what she chose to do with the years she was granted.
Fame is available to a few; living a consequential life is available to all.
This is what I learned from Barbara Bush, a selfless person who built a cohesive family and lived a consequential life.
A trio of words that offer a concise philosophy on how to live.