Sunday, October 18, 2009

How Death Impacts My Work

So I just learned yesterday that my grandmother, Grace Brown (1925-2009) passed away. Rest her soul. Such news sends me into reflection about death, and the legacy of the deceased as well as the one I am creating. It occurs to me that the preponderance of the legacy we leave when we pass is rooted in the work we do while we are here. In this I mean not only "what" work we do, but also "how" we work, where the "how" far outweighs the "what" in importance.

I know that as I have crossed into my 40s I think more than ever about death and legacy and "how" I work is becoming relatively more important to me than "what" work I do. It's occurred to me that after 25 years of adult work, the basic tasks of work will not differ much for the rest of my life, but more largely the context and the character of my work.

Because I will not be able to work or, for that matter, live forever, I pay more attention to both. While death is a tragic thing, at least for those of us left to witness it, its sober and courageous contemplation can enrich and lend much purpose to life (and work) as few things are valued that are taken for granted as permanent, whether that is a job or a life.

Having witnessed the passing of another dear life, whose work, by the way, will be sorely missed, I take away the following insights:

1. I should work everyday as though it is were my last and bring every appropriate and relevant energy, grace, skill and authenticity to every task and interaction I encounter.

2. I should keep a perspective of "passionate detachment", especially when work becomes difficult and frustrating, knowing that everything I am accomplishing, or not, is temporary in occurrence. None of it will last forever either way, and thus I should not be too proud when successful, or too distraught when unsuccessful.

3. I should work for outcomes I truly care about in the world, that go beyond paying my bills, as work, paid or non-paid, is the primary tool we are given for making our mark on the world. Let's assure that mark is the one we intend to make.

4. I should work (and I mentioned this earlier in my posts, Honoring my (Working) Mothers on Mother's Day and What Africa Has Done For My Work.) to honor those who have taught me, through instruction and modeling, to work from my earliest youth to now.

Certainly Grace Brown, my grandmother, left her mark on me in this way. From toddlerhood, when I first detected her loving existence, to last Spring, when I last saw her, I recall her as a diligent woman, always applying her energy to some task related to the care and comfort of our family. It is to this recollection that I dedicate this post and my life of work. I am so glad that she got to see the results of her hard work in my own work and life and that I got to express my appreciation for her love and example to me.

So as we sit today preparing to reenter our work worlds on tomorrow, or maybe you did not even get to escape this weekend (I know I did not), take time to courageously reflect on death and let that reflection enrich how you go about your work as it is truly the stuff of our legacy. :-)