I used to be arrogant enough to believe that my death one day would be front page news all over the world.
I imagined all the great things I would have done by the time I died — the political power I had won, the businesses I had built and the influence I had had — and I thought that many millions would mourn me. I even thought I’d make the history books.
I have a very different view today of my obituary. I haven’t yet had the great success of my fantasies — not yet — but a summary of my life would sound interesting and successful. I had a wonderful run in newspapers, starting from reporter and quickly rising to publisher. I got into politics by accident and had a couple of decades of financial success getting candidates elected to powerful positions. I’ve owned small companies. I’ve made money and lost it. The story would be colorful.
But the one thing I now realize is most important to this earthly life would be missing. If I died today — which I certainly don’t expect anytime soon — a brutally honest obituary might say, “A lot of people liked him. A number of people will miss him. But he died without anybody who loved him. He died alone, with no family.”
And that feels like failure.
I understand something about life now, but I might have learned it too late. The things which I used to value so much — which I used to hope would be in my front-page obituaries — are worthless. The only thing that really matters is who loves you enough to choose you — which person wants to build a life with you.
I’m thinking about this tonight because I was scanning some obituaries earlier and wondering who these people were. The thing that stuck out was how many of the families talked about the person being surrounded by loved ones when he died.
And that made me feel empty.
For some reason, that empty feeling made me remember a conversation with a woman not too many years ago. We had both seen “Sleepless in Seattle” before, but we were watching it together that night. And I remember getting really emotional hearing the words to a song used in the film.
Fame if you win it,
Comes and goes in a minute.
Where’s the real stuff in life to cling to?
Love is the answer,
Someone to love is the answer.
Once you’ve found her, build your world around her.
— Betty Comden and Adolph Green, “Make Someone Happy”
As the movie was finishing, I quoted that last line to her — “Once you’ve found her, build your world around her” — and then I said, “That’s the way I feel about you.”
“I knew you would be thinking that,” she responded. “You’re getting me all weepy now. I still can’t believe we found one another.”
I used to want to build my life around achievements. I have nothing against achievements, but I will never again live for them. I’ll never again make them the most important things in my life. I will never again forget what’s most important — and what will be even more important when I finally die.
I don’t care whether my obituary one day says anything about what I’ve done with my life. By then, I certainly won’t care. I don’t see why anybody else would.
But I hope it can say that someone who loved me was there until I died — or that I had been with her until she died. Either way. And I hope it can say that I had family who cared enough to be there for me — people who loved me and who I loved, too.
Finding the right person is less about figuring out something complicated and more about simply recognizing what’s obvious and right in front of you. Then — if you’re lucky enough for her to recognize you as her love — it’s time to build a life around her. It’s time to build a family and a loving life that will give life its ultimate meaning.
I’m eager to play the triumphant final scene in my sappy romance. I’m ready to recognize her — to have her recognize me as well — and I’m ready to build my life around her.
If I have that, none of the rest will matter when I die.