HERO: My father, Sidney Moran

by Deborah Moran

Age 58. Houston, TX

Many call my dad a saint without much exaggeration.  He is that rare thing, incredibly emotionally mature, unfailingly beneficent, full of wisdom based on extremely grounded and logical thinking, loved by all who know him.  I inherited his way of thinking, but not his gentle temperament.  So I try to spread his ideas and wisdom and live them myself, but will never equal his ability to appeal to people’s better nature. Next life, perhaps.

PURPOSE: INTEGRITY, LEARNED THE HARD WAY

by Jeff Wheeler

Age 44. Sacramento, CA

I’m a devout member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. I wish I could say that it was a passage from the Book of Mormon that decisively changed me, but it wasn’t. It was an experience I had in the workforce where I was forced to confront my own hypocrisy—that my actions did not match the ideals I had been raised with, and that I needed to change. I’ve shared this embarrassing experience on occasion with small youth groups where I live. It’s not easy to talk about. But I learned the value of integrity after having lost mine for a while.

I’ll summarize the situation briefly. In my late twenties, I worked as a night-shift supervisor at a tech company in Silicon Valley. I was married and my wife had recently had our first child, a baby girl. The night-shift schedule was difficult with a newborn. One of my technicians made a mistake during a routine equipment maintenance procedure during a Saturday night shift. The mistake wasn’t discovered until Monday and resulted in significant factory interruption. In that company, when a mistake is made, it’s like blood in the water and the sharks begin to come. My performance review was dismal that year, and I felt my employment at the company was in jeopardy. It was a difficult time with all the stress of the problem, being a new father, and dealing with night-shift work which was taking its toll on me. I decided it would be a smart move to find another job within the company, on day-shift, where I could escape the problem and start over again.

I found an opportunity in what I thought was a perfect role for me that meshed my interests and abilities. I applied for the job and hoped I would make the shortlist and earn an interview at least.

IT WAS NOT JUST THE SHAME OF BEING CAUGHT. IT WAS REALIZING THAT EVEN IF I HADN’T BEEN CAUGHT, IT WAS STILL WRONG.

Waiting to hear back was torture. The stress I felt took its toll on my health and attitude. I don’t mean to use this as justification for what happened next, just by way of explanation. Because I worked night-shift as a manager, I had the ability to walk around the office building in the middle of the night. And so one night I walked by the cubicle of the hiring manager of the job I wanted so much. It felt wrong to do this, but I justified it in my mind with many excuses. The next night, I went into the cubicle and looked around on her desk. Again, it felt wrong but I justified it. What were the odds, I reasoned, that I would be caught? I thought that if Security came by, I would hear them coming and would be able to make an excuse because I was a manager. I deceived myself.

The third night, I actually sat in the hiring manager’s chair, imagining to myself what it would be like to work in that group. I tried to find some evidence on the desk of who the candidates might be, but I didn’t find anything overt. Then I heard footsteps coming down the hall. My heart began to race, and I imagined that it was Security. You can imagine my shock when the hiring manager came walking into the cubicle at 4AM and found me sitting in her chair.

That was one of the most painful experiences in my life. Let’s just say she wasn’t pleased to meet me under those circumstances. She didn’t decide to press the matter with Security (thankfully), listened to my pathetic excuses and then told me to go, and I left both humiliated and rocked to my core. I realized that somewhere along the way, I had not really espoused the virtue of integrity, even though I had been taught it as a child. After I got home and shamefully explained what happened to my wife, I decided that I never wanted to endure such an experience again. It was not just the shame of being caught. It was realizing that even if I hadn’t been caught, it was still wrong. Losing a job was not worth losing my integrity.

Years ago I began collecting quotes and one of my favorites is from the Roman philosopher Ovid: “No man can purchase his virtue too dear, for it is the only thing whose value must ever increase with the price it has cost us. Our integrity is never worth so much as when we have parted with our all to keep it.” Or, as the scriptures have also taught me: “I, the Lord, love him because of the integrity of his heart, and because he loveth that which is right before me.”

That experience changed me. Slowly, over time, through conscious and deliberate acts I re-built my integrity by speaking the truth and never trying to do anything that would make my wife, children, or God ashamed of me.

OUR INTEGRITY IS NEVER WORTH SO MUCH AS WHEN WE HAVE PARTED WITH OUR ALL TO KEEP IT. 

I’m not perfect and grateful that I can still acknowledge my mistakes and fix them. Years later, I was approached by a senior manager at the company and he asked me to work for him as his operations manager and assistant. He told me he wanted me to work for him because he had observed me over the years and that I had integrity. He said that trait was pretty rare. It was very validating at that moment. When I started working for him, I discovered a kindred spirit and a dear friend. I’ve found that weaving virtue into my parenting (we’ve been married 21 years and have five kids now), into the novels I write, into my career at the tech company, and into my relationships has blessed my life enormously. Most importantly, I feel closer to God than I’ve ever felt and that I’m helping people and not just myself.

And that’s the purpose of my life.

PURPOSE: NOW TAX LAW MAKES PERFECT SENSE

by Donald Twomey

Age 54. Boston, MA

The idea of being in an office for more than eight hours a day never made sense to me. The work (tax law) is decent, keeps the mind active, and pays the bills, but just never seemed real or important enough to let it become one’s reason for living. But I do know what a calling is. My partner Michael and I were in our thirties, going to a church with lots of gay people, comfortable and busy, but wondering what was missing. All at once some obstacles were lifted and we knew: we were going to adopt children. From that instant is was not a question of whether, but how. The boys are now fifteen and fourteen, and we are returning to Cambodia and the orphanage this coming summer, for the first time since they were infants.

Now tax law makes perfect sense. It gives me structure and allows me to contribute a useful skill, and because I work for the government and thus have civilized work hours, I have had the joy of being tutor, chauffeur, laundress, valet, cook, housemaid, nursemaid, and with that have experienced love in a way I could never have known. That’s purpose, that’s a calling, and that’s just about good enough for this man’s life.

 

 

A POEM: Coup de Grace

A Poem: Coup de Grace

by Fernando Valdivia

Our soul’s advancement isn’t guaranteed
by bloodline, ancestry or wealth.
Nor is it sped by diplomas or degrees.
Its progress isn’t hastened nor yet helped
by patronage or influential chaperones.
It must improve itself alone.

And yet like any worthy introspection,
the effort needn’t isolate us quite
from all others striving toward perfection.
For like ourselves whose spirits seek to reunite,
fellow pilgrims find assistance in alliance,
and love urges us to seek companions.

But whether striving partnered or alone,
the heartfelt eulogies and epitaphs that praise
those of us whose names are chiseled on the stones
are not the resumes by which souls are appraised.
What’s false is purged away and only truth remains.
        And what becomes through Grace was foreordained.

                                —Fernando Valdivia

PURPOSE: WHAT’S 50 YEARS?

by Susan de la Vergne 

Age 60. Los Angeles, CA

 On the other hand, this life is astonishingly short if you compare it with, say, eternity, so what’s 50 years?

On one hand, I think it took me a ridiculously long time to find my “purpose.” It wasn’t until a few years ago, when I was in my mid-50s, that things all started to make much more sense. On the other hand, this life is astonishingly short if you compare it with, say, eternity, so what’s 50 years? 

After decades of wandering around exploring spiritual traditions and trying to fuel my professional life (in technology management) with lasting and careful ways of being, the results were uneven at best. I was a respectful, creative manager, but privately I was at least part basket case—reactive, disappointed, swinging wildly, up with good news and down with bad. Looking further for answers, I decided one day that I’d heard enough about the benefits of meditation that I ought to give it a try. That led me to a Buddhist meditation center, and I’ve been there ever since, studying, practicing, and trying to bring my better, more compassionate, less strung-out self to work, family, even to situations where I know no one.

In what’s left of my life, I’ll be doing more of the same. It is why I’m here.

PURPOSE: THE SOFTER BRUSH

by Dimitrios Antos

Age 32. San Francisco, CA

In all the ways the world understands, I’ve done well so far—a doctorate from Harvard, a job in Silicon Valley, a rock-solid relationship, a pretty comfortable life.

But in truth, after years of science, it was being closer to God that changed my perspective and gave me joy and meaning. I used to see a landscape and think “hey, a pretty hill and trees.” Yet now, the thought is more like “wow, such a stunningly beautiful hill, beyond words to describe.”

but after a while you find yourself on a hedonic treadmill, trying harder and harder to obtain less and less joy.

I have discovered humility and the joy of not talking about myself. Of not being certain about my ideas, and listening—really listening—to the people around me. I have understood that the soft brush is a better tool—albeit slower—to reveal what is buried, in myself and others.

There were two forces that precipitated the shift:

First, a realization that life lived for oneself is lacking. In the beginning, luxury restaurants are amazing, but after a while you find yourself on a hedonic treadmill, trying harder and harder to obtain less and less joy.

Second, moral challenge is good. I am gay and an Orthodox Christian, two aspects of my identity that have never sat comfortably with each other. But the internal moral struggle to make sense of the dissonance helped me grow. My liberal, secular, “live-and-let-live” self has always wrestled with my conservative, tradition-abiding, humbler side. And in this way both became sharper. The debate made the finer issues of both sides to come to prominence. And the beauty of both ideas came forth.

the soft brush is a better tool—albeit slower—to reveal what is buried, in myself and others.

(The above might give the impression that I’m in fact perfect or “illumined.” Of course not—life has its own forces that are bigger than us. Even from day to day, amidst work and the chores of life, the wonder is lost, the principles are forgotten. But not altogether. Something is still left, and the seed can grow.)

PURPOSE: IS TO DO

by Frank Winters

Age 72. Cape Cod, MA 

 Purpose is to do, to help, to create and to love. Now. Not during your funeral.

I believe purpose in life is life’s meaning as expressed by Viktor Frankl in “Man’s Search for Meaning.” I follow Ralph Waldo Emerson and lead a discussion group at my Unitarian Church on “Emerson as Spiritual Guide” a Skinner publication edited by Barry Andrews. I restarted the men’s group at our church where we discuss issues of ethics, morality and character. In fact we used David’s column, The Moral Bucket List, as the spark for discussion on one Monday evening. My purpose seems to be to bring insight to everyday discourse. To help myself and others think through difficult, even imponderable issues. I don’t duck tough questions because to do so would be counter to my purpose. I value truth highly. But I recognize the relativity of truth, that it changes for us as we learn. “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines” these are words to live by and I do, never fearing to contradict my yesterday self.

In reading Emerson I have found emersion rewarding. Don’t read “Self Reliance” without reading “The OverSoul.” Don’t read any essay just once, expecting to absorb the message – you will not get it. Emersion in Emerson’s work has led to a deeper understanding of the thread that stretches from him to Henry David Thoreau to Walt Whitman to Gary Snyder to Allen Ginsberg  to Bob Dylan. Westernized Buddhism seems to have started with Emerson and today we have the wisdom of the East near at hand. As a Unitarian Universalist I am thankfully free to choose wisdom where it is found, leaving dogma and cultural quirks behind.

Included in my purposeful, inconsistent, spiritual practice is photography. I like to capture random points of convergence and decay. I operate in luminal space looking to the left and right for the quotidian and left for the transcendent, pouncing when light casts its universal eyeball on a scene that might look good in a photograph.

 Wisdom can be applied in the checkout line at the grocery.

Purpose is to do, to help, to create and to love. Now. Not during your funeral. At a men’s group discussion the other night, one man said “I think resume vs eulogy is not a useful metaphor.” I think he meant that it isn’t quite that simple. Character is needed on the job and during the job search. Wisdom can be applied in the checkout line at the grocery. I have the audacity to think I have wisdom to share and the backbone to share it wherever I see an opportunity. I will do this every day that I can, with little concern for lists of any kind. I know my purpose now but I’m not keeping score.

EULOGY: Anna Julie Moyle

Eulogy for Anna,

by Anna Julie Moyle 

What does one say about an individual who started life out as one of three?

Her triplet sisters might say she was born with a strong sense of justice which sometimes fed a passionate temper. Her role in the family was to play judge and to determine how to equally share the spoils of family life. She eventually learned to channel that sense of justice into wise decision-making and kept her cool when it mattered most.

What would her husband say about her middle years, when she left her comfortable triad to become a wife and mother?

He might say that her desire for fairness led her to have compassion for all she encountered. Her desire for independence after a crowded childhood made her a responsible adult and citizen, but at times could lead her to overlook the needs and desires of those around her. Marriage and motherhood bound her to others in a way she would have difficulty doing on her own. It helped her see her own life from the vantage point of others, a sometimes painful but sanctifying process.

And what would her children say about her? They might say she was unflappable in times of conflict, difficulty, and uncertainty. Her carefully channeled passion for justice gave her the ability to stand up for her family when called on, but also to call on her family to quell their desires when the needs of others were more pressing. Her lifelong calling to work in communications and serve the church balanced out her roles at home and in the community in such a way that inspired them to also search for calling in their lives. She taught them to think not just about what they wanted to do with their lives, but what needs in the world could use their unique gifts.

My Reflections 

When I sat down to write my eulogy, I tried to think of the threads that have run through my life so far, and how they would manifest themselves down the road. It was no easy task to try to imagine the “future me.” Wasn’t this just another exercise in narcissism, the very thing that the The Road to Character speaks against?
 
But the very act of writing this eulogy took the attention away from me and helped me notice afresh the people who surround me – those whom I see every day, and those with whom I stay in close contact from afar. They are the ones who will stick with me to the end. I realized that in order for this eulogy to be read, someone has to actually be there to read it. It will not be me delivering it; the very nature of a eulogy is that it is what others have to say about the deceased. We don’t do this life alone, and even in our death we depend on others.
 
I came to realize that in 50 years the same threads will have woven their way, however twistingly, through my life: God, family, justice, grace, calling. The past, present, and future me always grasps these threads within community. But their impact doesn’t stop at the edge of my inner circle. They weave beyond my own life into layer upon intricate layer throughout history and around the world in ways that I cannot even see. And so my hope for the “future me” is that self-awareness will always drive me out of myself and look to the needs of my community, society, and the world at large. I think my eulogy reflects that hope.