Life is short, shorter than we know, and at the end of our days what do we want to be said about who we were, how we lived, the good that we did, and the legacy that we left behind? I am visiting these questions right now because one of my favorite people on this earth is dying and I regard his wonderful life as a success. His name is KT and he lives in North Carolina in an award-winning home he helped design and build.
The long drive leading to this glorious house is punctuated by a handsome large wooden Totem Pole that he hand-crafted, prompting one friend to observe in wonderment, “Is there nothing he can’t do?” His special round yurt house sits in grandeur on a small lake where, at night, the dark water reflects the moonlight and the stars. During the day, the house receives the sunshine through its many walls and windows of glass. Like its owner, the house has a Big Presence on the land.
My friend, KT, has been in my life since my early thirties; he has always been a bear of a man, tall, sturdy, bearded, and with such twinkling eyes they could only be matched by the eyes of Santa Claus. His eyes tell a story – he knows things, he is wise to the ways of the world, and he is in on the joke. His presence in a roomful of people is such that you only have to follow the sound of laughter to find him.
A Peace Corp member during his mid-life, KT was placed, with his beloved former wife, Laura, in the Soloman Islands. His natural affinity for people, his unquenchable curiosity, and his smiling, caring personality made his time there well-remembered and his contributions lasting. The photos he took during those two years represented a fabulous adventure to be lived vicariously by his pals here in Indy, in Washington, D.C., and elsewhere. He narrated a witty and amazing slide show for his friends that none of us will ever forget. His camera captured the spirit of a people and his photographs were uniquely and hauntingly beautiful. Since I lived and worked in Japan around the same time, we three share a sense of what it feels like to be far from home, a stranger in a strange land, and how we each made friends with people that have lasted beyond those days. We know what it is like to be citizen diplomats and to represent our home country, in our adopted ones, with great love.
KT is a gifted therapist; trained in Gestalt Therapy and Neurolinguistics, there is a magical quality to his work, and he is eloquent and brash in a special way that moves and inspires people. He spent quality time in the company of healers like Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and Richard Moss; he made decisions about the end of life that I think can be summed up by this phrase, “My life, my death, my choice.”
This winter, recognizing that his body was wearing out, he intentionally decided not to pursue any further medical support for his health. Hospice is attending to him at home, and he is pain free, and surrounded by his loved ones, a gathering of special women in his life, who are honoring his choice with compassion, love and devoted care.
Through Facebook many friends and colleagues from around the country and the world have been posting messages that are being read to him. These are testimony to the deep affection, and admiration that is felt for KT, a web of unconditional love, and tributes to a life well-lived.
Author and commentator, David Brooks, has written in his book, The Road to Character, that there are two kinds of virtues we can develop – resume virtues and eulogy virtues. Resume virtues are the skills we bring to the marketplace, while eulogy virtues are those that are talked about at our funeral – such as were we brave, kind, generous, and capable of deep love?
While KT has plenty of resume virtues, those are not the ones people are commenting about on Facebook; they are writing reflections on his warm inner light, his deep goodness, his excellent listening skills, and the way he can make us feel playful and valued. His laughter is ever ready and infused with gratitude. He hasn’t been selfish, but has had a generosity of spirit and a depth of character that has informed all the different roles he has played in life, including son, father, friend, husband, former husband, neighbor, artist, photographer, therapist, and world traveler.
To me, it seems that at some point in his personal growth, instead of asking what he wanted from life, KT asked what life was asking of him, and then he set about providing it. He has had his share of suffering, of painful experiences, of defeats and redemptions. He has had his human failings like the rest of us. But what his friends are telling him is that he will never be forgotten for all the good he has done, all the love he has given, and all the glorious examples of how to live that he has shown us. Well done, KT, and well served. I love you. Here’s to your great and successful life; may you be blessed as you are cherished in this life and beyond.