Ethical will

How to remember me …

I’ve been thinking rather a lot about death, not just Janice’s, mine too. One of the main things I want to do is die well. So I went to a workshop at the Chico Friends Meetinghouse about ethical wills.

We started by writing down words that we felt could describe us after our death. Some people chose courageous, committed, ethical, caring, honest, compassionate, and more. I was astonished. The best I could come up with was open-minded and polite.

I could scarcely believe that a person would think those things about himself. Not that he might not actually be those things. He might, but somewhere along the way I’ve picked up the notion that one oughtn’t to claim virtue and that one sounds a self-righteous ass with poor judgment if one does.

Although I know I’m actually capable of, say, compassion, I think so much of compassion as a virtue, a good and admirable quality, that claiming to be compassionate seems the rankest hubris. I would quite like for people to refer to me as honest, caring, and courageous when I’m dead and gone, but I wouldn’t dream of referring to me now as such. I think judgments like that must be made by another person to have any weight, and if someone said she was a caring person I’d figure she was probably a busybody and a potential pain at least, and still may or may not be caring.

An ethical will can be a lot of things, but as much as anything it’s a way you can represent yourself to the world. You can say what you loved, what you think is important, what you most want to say to people still alive, how you want to be remembered, what you’ve actually been trying to do, what you really meant.

I’ve not thought much about how I want to be remembered or what nuggets of wisdom I want to bequeath. I’ve passed on my ethics and values to my sons directly in person for all their years, regardless of what I might have said at one time or other, and I keep writing From the Edge and shamelessly exposing my mind to all and sundry, including children and the infirm.

Now I’m thinking of writing an ethical will, except while I have things to say, they’re likely to be important only to me, and I’m not really sure of much of anything anyway. I’m not proselytizing about anything. The more I learn, the less I know, and I can’t think of a convincing reason for anybody to pay special attention to what I manage to say, much less take me seriously, but I’m gonna think about it.