During my life, I have found myself repeatedly in situations where I have been among people older than myself while involved in work or service. This has provided me many learning experiences and it has helped me feel young to hang out with old people. You would think that as I have become one of those “older people” myself, I might have fewer of those opportunities, but once again I have found myself mingling with a wonderful group of “mature adults,” most of whom are older than I am. The majority of these people are retired and considered senior citizens. We work together in a volunteer service capacity.
As I have gotten to know some of these people, I have been somewhat surprised to learn about their “previous lives,” which include some pretty prestigious accomplishments. They have had successful businesses, careers in education, medicine, and law. Some have served in public service and community organizations. When they talk of these things however, it is in a matter of fact manner, without any bragging or desire to go into much detail. What I have found instead, is that the preferred conversations with them are about their families – their children and grandchildren. There was probably a time in their lives when their minds and conversations were centered on those worldly activities, interests and accomplishments, and perhaps it is because they are no longer immersed in those things that talk about them is not a priority. I have to wonder that if in the passing of time and approaching the end of life, the focus has shifted to the things that hold more lasting importance. Maybe for some of them however, families and faith were always were the priority.
In a recent conversation with a friend, we attempted to put into words what we both saw in some older friends. We used words like perspective, discernment, tolerance. She described a kind of “softening” that appears to come with age, but maybe only for some people. We both concluded that these people seemed to be acquiring Christlike qualities.
In a devotional address at Brigham Young University in December 2015, Elder Quentin L. Cook referred to an editorial by David Brooks titled, “The Moral Bucket List,” wherein he discussed the idea that there are “two sets of virtues, the resume virtues and the eulogy virtues.” (Quoted in “The Gospel and the Good Life” Ensign March 2017, p 33) The resume virtues would be all of those career accomplishments and material success that my older friends seem to mention as an afterthought, while the eulogy virtues involve the legacy that they will leave to their posterity, which they appear to have placed in the proper perspective.
In my conversation with my friend, I also mentioned concerns about many in our world today who seem to be so wrapped up in themselves and the culture which promotes success and self-absorption. I have heard about young people who are ambitious and driven to succeed in a chosen career. One in particular is so immersed that she has very little time for any kind of social life outside of work. She has not yet married because travel and work leave few opportunities to pursue a relationship to that point, and a marriage could get in the way of the career. Maybe this is viewed as merely postponing a family, but the longer it is delayed, the less likely it is to happen. At some point the opportunity for having and raising children passes. At some point careers end. But what is left for retirement if work has been one’s whole life? Even with a “bucket list” of potential experiences, where is the pleasure without someone to share them with?
I recently heard a story about a man whose focus had been on worldly success. He had married but had no children. He thought he was living the good life. When his wife died unexpectedly, he found himself very alone. Fortunately some good people reached out to him and he had a kind of change of heart or perspective. He returned to the religion he had earlier discarded as he pursued success. He eventually found a good woman to marry, who brought with her into his life children and grandchildren. He was able to gain things that he had not realized he lacked before it was too late.
I used to listen to eulogies, especially of women, and feel kind of sad that there was no mention of a successful career or other accomplishments. All that was said was that she was a loving mother and served her family, church and community. As I have gotten older, and my own worldly accomplishments have been small and opportunities have passed, I am realizing more and more that these “eulogy virtues” are really what matters. The greatest legacy I can leave will be my posterity, the things I have taught them, and the lives I may have touched through service. I hope that I can keep that perspective to the end of my days.