A few weeks before Thanksgiving, I went to the funeral for my beloved Uncle Tom. I never want to go to a funeral, but The Therapist and I live by a simple rule: weddings are optional, funerals are mandatory.
I’ve been to my share of funerals and I rarely regret attending. I find them enormously re-centering. It’s rare that people focus on the career achievements of the deceased at a funeral, except in a passing way as context for describing the person’s character.
Here’s an example from Uncle Tom: He spent his career as a science teacher. One of his former students shared this memory:
“When I was in the 7th grade, Mr. Harro asked me to bring my dog to class. When I entered the school, I was stopped by the principal and asked what I was doing. So I told him. The principal was going to expel me. Mr. Harro told the principal that if he expelled the dog, he would have to expel Mr. Harro also. The dog won.”
Although I’m sure Uncle Tom was a fine science teacher, we learned little about Uncle Tom’s teaching prowess from that story. Instead, we learned about his fundamental character – his creativity, his willingness to stick up for people against thoughtless power, and his sense of humor.
David Brooks wrote a classic essay about the difference between resume virtues – the qualities that get you a job or a promotion – and eulogy virtues – the qualities that people will talk about after you die. Both are important. But eulogy virtues trump resume virtues every day because who you’re becoming is always more important than what you’re achieving.