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A Life That Matters

  • Elliott
  • April 18, 2014
  • 0

Last week I watched Steve Kroschel’s documentary Dying to Have Known which examined the efficacy of the Gerson Therapy in treating cancer. At the end of the informative film Kroschel reads a poem entitled Character Counts. A quick internet search revealed that the poem was from The Josephson Institute of Ethics.

I want to share it with you:

For each of us, it will one day come to an end. 

There will be no more sunrises, no minutes, hours or days.

All the things you collected, whether treasured or forgotten will be passed to someone else.

Your fame, your wealth and temporal power will shrivel to irrelevance.

It will not matter what you owned or owed.

Your grudges, frustrations and jealousy will finally disappear.

So too your hopes, ambitions, plans and to do lists will expire.

The wins and losses that once seemed so important will fade away.

It will not matter where you came from, or what side of the tracks you lived.

At the end it won’t matter if you are beautiful or brilliant.

Even your gender and skin color will be irrelevant.

So what will matter?

How will the value of your days be measured?

What will matter is not what you bought but what you built.

Not what you got but what you gave.

What will matter is not your success but your significance.

What will matter is not what you learned but what you taught.

What will matter is that every act of integrity, compassion, courage or sacrifice that empowered enriched or encouraged others to emulate your example.

What will matter is not your competence but your character.

What will matter is not how many people you knew but how many will feel a lasting loss when you are gone.

What will matter is not your memories but the memories that live in those that learned to love from you.

A life lived that matters is not of circumstance but of choice.

Every time I see a bumper sticker which proclaims “He who dies with the most toys wins,” I think something similar to the truth that “what matters is not what you have bought, but what you have built.”

license plate most toys

Every time I see a celebrity, unable to control their various addictions, I think “what will matter,” once you are gone, “is not your success but your significance.”

Every time I see some individual or organization preaching hatred, through acts or words, I think when their time comes “it will not matter what they learned but what they taught.”

Every time I read of a person who bilked people out of their pensions so that they might enjoy some type of temporary decadence I think, when your time comes “what will matter is your character” not your skill at working the system.

When I read of humble people whose simple lives have touched millions I think to myself: “there is a person who knew how to live.”


Whenever I have been asked to speak at a funeral I have always included my belief that the ultimate measure of a person’s success is found through his/her ability to love.

Knowing these beliefs by which I strive to live my life makes it quite obvious why this poem resonated with me. I totally agree with the wisdom which states that “A life lived that matters is not of circumstance but of choice.” These choices are not just the monumental ones in life but the minute by minute decisions which define our daily existence. May all of your choices reflect your values and lead you to a life which is not only peaceful but which lives on in the hearts and minds of those who remain in form long after you are gone.

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