Saturday, April 22, 2006

Most People Die With Their Music Still Inside Them

Last week at a local bookstore, I noticed a book titled And Never Stop Dancing by Gordon Livingston, M.D. It's subtitle is "Thirty More True Things You Need to Know Now". I bought the book and have enjoyed my bedtime reading of the wisdom of Dr. Livingston, a psychiatrist and writer who also wrote Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart (which I look forward to reading soon).

Among Dr. Livingston's 30 "true things" about life are explorations of: We are defined by what we fear. It is a sense of meaning that nourishes the soul. Forgiveness is a gift we give ourselves. The last two pages of his last chapter -- Most people die with their music still inside them -- offers the following insightful comments about ethical wills:

"Some people have provided a variation on this exercise (writing one's own obituary) by use of what has become known as "ethical wills". Unlike a conventional will that is used to distribute money and property, an ethical will is a statement of values that one imagines may be of interest or guidance to those who survive us. Constructing such a testimonial seems like a good idea, whether in contemplation of imminent death or a sort of midlife inventory of experience and beliefs that one would like to pass on to one's survivors.

The problem with the statements that I have read is that they tend to contain a lot of advice. This is, I suppose yet another example of the usual dialogue between the generations in which those who are older feel a need to tell those who are younger what to do. How much better received we would be if we simply told our stories and left the moral for the listeners to divine. In writers' workshops the operative instruction is "show, don't tell." Thus implies that we learn best about values by seeing how other people have expressed what they believed by their actions and not being told to "follow your passion," or "do unto others ...," or "live an honest life". Most of us know what we should do; we just need models of how those who have gone before us have reified their beliefs.

It's not surprising that when we contemplate our mortality we tend to feel a little desperate about being remembered. "He not busy being born is busying dying." Bob Dylan said. His music will not be buried with him."

Well said, Dr. Livingston. I better take another look at my "in-process" ethical will to see how I've been doing regarding your "show, don't tell" instruction.
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