Due to circumstances I’ve been rewriting my will (nothing serious, just a trip abroad). That activity prompted a strain of thoughts about what I would like as a text on my gravestone. Incidentally: I don’t want one, but suppose I did, what would I like to have written on it?
Most people only have their names and dates of birth and death. My dad’s gravestone also mentions his profession, but he was an organist. That’s something worth mentioning. Things like ‘accountant’, ‘chief executive officer’ or ‘ICT specialist’ hardly are. So I’m lucky to be an archaeologist.
Yet, I would not want my CV on my gravestone. As someone once said: ‘When you’re dying, you’re not going to worry about whether you’ve spent enough time at the office.’ So I asked myself what I would want mentioned and I came up with a surprisingly odd list of things that I am proud of and would like to be remembered by:
- I taught my god-daughter to read her first two-syllable word (‘castle’);
- I donated blood 95 times;
- A friend of mine and me regularly visited (both at home and in the hospital) a former university teacher of ours in the course of the year in which he was seriously ill;
- I spoke well at his funeral (so well in fact that one of the other speakers jokingly promised me I could speak at his);
- I never ever fell out with friends (apart from loosing track of them and -sometimes- picking up the thread years later);
- I designed a Roman bridge for an archaeological theme park that still stands today;
- When, only months after being married, the wife of my colleague ran off and he got to talk about it at work at the wrong moment, I kept some prospective clients waiting for their appointment for half an hour to give him time to talk;
- With friends we managed to find a place where an Iranian refugee could sleep for a night;
- I wrote one good poem (about the thrill of sleeping next to a woman and hearing her breathe);
- Every night in winter I made a hot water bottle for my girlfriend, who needed her feet warm in order to sleep;
- When a friend of mine decided to stop drinking alcohol, I abstained from alcohol during Lent to provide moral support (incidentally: it runs totally counter to the idea of Lent to say this);
And that’s it. No professional achievements, no relationships, no knowledge or scholarly activity. I surprised myself big time: this isn’t me at all, it’s just the things I consider my real achievements, the ones that I think are worth remembering. They’re surprisingly minor details. How little you can do that really matters. Maybe the French are right: Il faut cultiver son jardin.