I turned 40 today. I’ve been thinking about my 40th birthday over the past few weeks. It’s one of those birthdays that makes one stop and take note-at least it did for me. What would I say to people should they ask me why I see it this way?
One big lesson came this week in reading about Tim Russert’s life well-lived. He was a highly visible journalist, who was great at his job and had such an impact on so many viewers. But Tim was much more. Peggy Noonan, author and former speech writer for President Reagan, reflected on the coverage of Tim’s death. She writes: “The beautiful thing about the coverage was that it offered extremely important information to those age 15 or 25 or 30 who may not have been told how to operate in the world beyond “Go succeed.” I’m not sure we tell the young as much as we ought, as clearly as we ought, what it is the world admires, and what it is they want to emulate.
“In a way, the world is a great liar. It shows you it worships and admires money, but at the end of the day it doesn’t. It says it adores fame and celebrity, but it doesn’t, not really. The world admires, and wants to hold on to, and not lose, goodness. It admires virtue. At the end it gives its greatest tributes to generosity, honesty, courage, mercy, talents well used, talents that, brought into the world, make it better. That’s what it really admires. That’s what we talk about in eulogies, because that’s what’s important. We don’t say, “The thing about Joe was he was rich.” We say, if we can, “The thing about Joe was he took care of people.”
Thinking about Tim and his life makes me appreciate those I have in my life–a loving family, wonderful co-workers, meaningful work. It shows in the way that friends at work went out of their way to make sure I had a nice birthday. Or the person who gave me a birthday gift with a card, sending a money order because I’m guessing that it came from collected tips. That kills me with love.
Perhaps turning 40 is simply an internal call to action. Living and enjoying a proper life isn’t easy, writes Noonan. It takes “guts, and self-discipline, and active attention to developing and refining a conscience to whose promptings you can respond. Honoring your calling or profession by trying to do within it honorable work, which takes hard effort, and a willingness to master the ethics of your field,” she writes. “And enjoying life. This can be hard in America, where sometimes people are rather grim in their determination to get and to have.”
Am I going to be the kind of person remembered as Tim Russert was-someone who was good to others, tried to practice his craft to the best of his abilities, and kept his priorities in order? I hope so; not in some vain way to seek adoration, but simply so others might know how much I care about them.