The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote and delivered his own eulogy.
On February 4, 1968, he gave a speech at Ebenezer Baptist Church.
Two months later, at his widow’s request, a recording of that speech was played at his funeral.
A Committed Life
In that speech King made a request that at his funeral no mention of his awards and honors be made. He shared how he wished to be remembered.
If any of you around when I have to meet my day, I don’t want a long funeral. And if you get somebody to deliver the eulogy, tell him not to talk too long. Every now and then I wonder what I want him to say, tell him not to mention that I have a Nobel Peace Prize, that isn’t important. Tell him not to mention that I have 300 or 400 other awards, that’s not important. Tell him not to mention where I went to school.
I’d like somebody to mention that day that Martin Luther King Jr. tried to give his life serving others. I’d like for somebody to say that day that Martin Luther King Jr. tried to love somebody.
I want you to say that day that I tried to be right on the war question. I want you to be able to say that day that I did try to feed the hungry. I want you to be able to say that day that I did try in my life to clothe those who were naked. I want you to say on that day that I did try in my life to visit those who were in prison. And I want you to say that I tried to love and serve humanity.
Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major. Say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace. I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter. I won’t have any money to leave behind. I won’t have the fine and luxurious things of life to leave behind. But I just want to leave a committed life behind.
I just want to leave a committed life behind.
Powerful and potent words.
Finding Meaning and What Matters
A couple of years ago, I wrote a blog post about a time when I imagined what people might say at my funeral. That essay, The Eulogy I Wrote For Myself, is the most popular post on this blog. Apparently it ranks very high in Google if you search for this type of thing.
And apparently people search for this, which is promising.
This is an exercise I do at least once a year, in different variations.
Contemplating what people might say about you when you’re gone is one of the best tools to help us focus our efforts in the right place now. It reveals your values and what really mattes to you.
The truth is that we don’t get to define our legacy. No matter what we do in this lifetime, we don’t control how people perceive it and how they will remember it. We certainly don’t have any influence over how future generations will perceive our contributions.
That doesn’t offer a reason not to aim for a life of meaning and purpose, a life directed to serving something beyond ourselves.
Nobody likes to think about death; it’s easier to pretend that we will live forever. But they way to live forever is to live according to a set of values that will live forever.
Values set our compass, they shape our decisions and actions, and thus they determine our life’s meaning.
What Are You Working For?
If you’re planning your year without consideration of your values and how you will live true to them, then you’re not really planning. If you’re only focused on your goals or your desires, then you’re signing up for a life devoid of meaning and fulfillment.
What is driving you? Is it awards that nobody will care about in a few years’ time? The top spot in rankings or the best-seller list?
When all is said and done, what’s the impact you would like to make on the people around you? You may not be able to guarantee you’ll have that impact, but you can at least try.
One way to honor the memory of Dr. King is to spend some time reflecting on how you are called to serve and how you wish to be remembered.
How do you wish to be remembered?
How can you leave a committed life behind?