Not all heroes have integrity, but most all who have integrity are heroes.
During the non-stop coverage Sunday morning after the death of Senator John McCain, they replayed a clip from an interview after one of his presidential campaign defeats. The reporter’s question was, “How would you like to be remembered?” It’s one of those standard questions interviewers love to ask. I missed his answer, because suddenly my mind was churning. What would I say? The word that popped into my mind was Integrity. Where did that come from?
Integrity. A fitting word to describe the man being remembered. I didn’t always like his policies and positions; it doesn’t matter. More than all his accomplishments, people talked about McCain’s genuineness, his willingness to admit mistakes and move on, his honesty, and that you knew where you stood with him. Amidst the many tributes, the one that brought me to tears was the one his daughter, Meghan McCain, posted on twitter the night he died. The full text can be found here at the NY Post.
The words that captured me most were these:
In the thirty-three years we shared together, he raised me, taught me, corrected me, comforted me, encouraged me, and supported me in all things. He loved me, and I loved him. He taught me how to live. His love and his care, ever present, always unfailing, took me from a girl to a woman — and he showed me what it is to be a man.
Why did those words hit me so viscerally? Was it because my own father died when I was sixteen? He had taught me a great deal, but I always felt cheated out of learning more.
Meghan’s words echoed in my head: shared, raised, taught, corrected, comforted, encouraged, supported, loved, loved, love and care, showed.
Then it hit me. Those words could describe a janitor, farmer or desk clerk. One does not need to be a war hero or a great statesman to have integrity. Nor do you have to be famous or a celebrity. (It seems in short supply amongst those groups.)
Integrity is being honest with yourself and those around you. Integrity is learning from and moving on from both mistakes and triumphs. Integrity is living in both truth and grace. Yes, sometimes the world sucks. And sometimes it is glorious. Most of the time it is somewhere in between. And that in-between is where we can make the most difference, day-to-day, taking the mediocre and mundane and lifting it to valued and worthwhile, bringing grace to the hurt and the left behind.
Regardless of one’s belief in an after-life or lack thereof, we can all benefit from living as people of integrity: honest, respectful, trustworthy, humble – that’s right; remember it means being real about your mistakes and weaknesses!
This is something we can all reach for regardless of our circumstances. There was a time when I wanted to do great things, be someone whom people looked up to and admired, leave a great legacy. Life happened, choices were made, outcomes didn’t always go according to plan. Sure, I regret some of my choices or non-choices, (anyone who says they don’t is a liar!), but I don’t regret where I am in life right now, and how I got here is part of that, so I wouldn’t change it. What I genuinely do regret is not treating the people I encountered along the way with more integrity and grace – the way I wanted to be treated.
I don’t expect my death to make the news. There may not even be a simple obituary in the paper. I don’t have kids; my family is small and scattered. There won’t be anyone to put flowers on a grave. In fact, I will be cremated, and my ashes strewn. Therefore, I don’t need to plan an elegy or epitaph for a grave stone.
For me, the most precious gift would be knowing that — somewhere during my nomadic journey here on earth — I touched someone’s mind or heart, brought some light to their darkness, comfort to their loneliness, or encouraged them to their best. That is something I can strive for now. Something I can incorporate into my daily life now.
In fact, I’ve decided to take the time about once a month to pick someone who has had an impact on my life and write their “eulogy”. Why wait? What better way to grace someone than to let them know now — while they are alive — how they have impacted your life? Many of the people I’d like to remember that way are gone; theirs will go into a notebook. But I’m guessing a lot of folks would enjoy a card, or letter, email or FB message, or a post on their page that lets them know they touched someone.
What about you? Are you waiting for death, hoping for a nice eulogy? Or are you living your life in a way that touches those around you now? Now is when you know you can make a difference. Once you’re gone, it’s beyond your control.
Me? “A pilgrim with integrity and grace.” I like that. For a legacy and for living.