The Obituary Exercise
One of my favorite episodes of Frasier is the one where they mistakenly report him as being dead, and he is disappointed when he reads his obituary in the paper. He feels like he didn’t do nearly all of the things he intended to with his life. Roz, in her characteristically direct way, says, “Well, what’s stopping you? You’re not actually dead.”
This then leads Frasier to write his obituary as he would like it to be read to help him streamline his vision for his life. The end result, of course, is hilarious. He has himself running the Boston marathon and tracing Lewis and Clark’s route, to which his father cannot help but laugh.
The idea for this episode probably came from the real life story of Alfred Nobel, a wealthy inventor in the 19th century, who was mistakenly presumed dead and his scathing obituary made him reflect and take action. What was first said about him (probably due to his invention of dynamite) was this: “a man who made it possible to kill more people more quickly than anyone else who had ever lived.” In the end, however, his name is forever associated with the Nobel Peace Prize and other Nobel prizes in medicine and literature and so on.
This all leads us to consider what our obituary would read like if we died today. And at least for me, that is a disappointing thought. But it allows me to consider what I hope it will say someday down the road when the time comes.
I hope my obituary will relate the dreams that I achieved and, more importantly, that there were dreams that I helped others to achieve. I hope it has a few monumental challenges listed as being checked off of my list, such as running a marathon or running a successful small business. I hope it lists numerous charities that I worked for and supported and that there is solid evidence that I helped my community. I hope it says that because of me, someone else lived a better life. I hope it says that my influence awakened faith and hope in someone else. I hope it says that I eventually got around to traveling the world, that I was a cheerful wife to my husband and that regardless of whatever age I am when I die, that I lived my life to the fullest.
Our story is not over, and there is still time to adjust our priorities to accurately reflect the legacy we want to leave on this world. We can choose to take whatever we can get, do as little as we can, and just hope that no one gets hurt in the meantime; or we can do something different and make an impact. Literally, the only thing stopping us is a single choice in this moment to make that change.
“We are our choices.” - Jean-Paul Sartre