How to Know You’ve Lived Outrageously Well

The thick dark that comes with dying has a way of throwing light on how well we’re living.  


I write this the day after eulogizing an out-size treasure of a friend, the Reverend Bob Lawrence.  He’d lived out an authentic joy of a life, full of cuss and beauty, able to orate the inescapable love of God while reminding the world around him that he’s a man, cutting a path through this untended weed-patch life with the same passions and fits we all have. 


He could loudly sing World War Two songs about jock itch and bicycle sprockets in indelicate places.  He reveled in stories of accidentally eating the dingle berry of his precious dog, thinking it a brownie crumb on the floor.  And yet through some of the bleakest times in my life – times of loss and crunching grief – he put his ministerial hands on me in a way that, even this moment, reminds me that God sits on the veranda of my soul, waiting, glad when I come take the cooling rest of absolute and inescapable love.


From the eulogist’s pulpit, looking out at the overflow sanctuary of the urban church where Bob served as a senior minister for years, I was reminded of how well our deaths measure what we’ve been, how well we’ve mattered, how welcome people have felt on the front porches of our being.


The congregation ran warm with tears, yet we cooled ourselves in laughter.  In this sanctified place, we partied together, celebrated the truth of a real man and the reality of his mattering to us, across years, through the marrying and burying and re-marrying and adopting new flock into his fold.  We who number among his friends heal ourselves by holding against the broken places of our hearts a thought of some wild, untamed thing he said, some hysterical sexual metaphor or simple outburst born of his Army days aboard a B-17.  He could bust the most hilarious ad lib about the most mundane thing in life, and, in the next breath, remind the most God-hostile soul alive that we’re all adored, just as we are, beyond the stars.


Camus said the only way to deal with an un-free world is to become so free your very existence is an act of rebellion.   Yesterday people rebelled against a sweltering day, put on ties and heeled shoes, and they packed a church to send off a friend they adored.  They sheltered his widow, Dani, in hugs, loved on his vast family and became a gathering that cast around the feel of a wider family, loosely knitted, but together, harvested by a fine life of 88 years.   They rebelled in the freedom of laughing out loud at this man’s funeral, and it was like the best family reunion under any sun.


Family grows way beyond DNA.  It becomes the unique harvest of friends from our days, the gathering of people drawn to how we make them feel, how we care for them.  Such friends magnetize to our spirits, called there by the welcome we thrum out into the world.  True friends tend to grow into our lives depending on what we sow. They liberate us from lonesomeness, forgive us, taking our forgiving, share in us and we in them, not always in constant contact, but there. 

The imprint we’ve left on people tends to measure itself in how big a room they’ll need for the ceremony of burying us.

 My dear friend’s sanctuary room was big, and at standing room only.  He was unstoppably authentic, hilarious and kind.  Hell raisers and heaven seekers adored him.  Scholars embraced him, a wonderful chick dug him – and still digs him as she grieves him.  Strangers felt strangely welcome around him.  To know him for a moment was to feel like you’d known him since kindergarten.  He was a whiskered, fatherly fun-fit of a man, wildly imperfect, graceful and grace filled.  He was a friend.  He reminds us how life, well lived, ought to feel.


So, this begs answers from me.  Do I welcome people with my humanity?  Or am I a living No Trespassing sign, sending off a vibe that reads, stay the hell off my lawn?


When there’s a grieving party gathering for me, how large will the crowd grow?  How will I have made my funeral’s crowd feel with my life?  Will they celebrate the way of my living, or the simple fact of my demise?


I can’t overstate it — at Bob’s funeral, all-out tear-yanking laughter – the pant-wetting kind – filled the sanctuary to its highest beams.  Tears of longing for his goodness and joy joined the flow.  To be missed, longed for, treasured in thoughts of many hearts that cross lines of race and gender and the codes of religion and politics, these are measures of a good life. 

These call us fully to live, magnanimously, for others, not merely for ourselves.  Such a life and funeral as surrounded Bob Lawrence reminds us to have so much crazy fun people blush with desire to live as we do, after all.


So, may our funerals be far away from us now.  And may our living between now and then make for ceremony that rings out with joy.  May a big crowd remember us in rib-splitting laughs, and in tales deep with how well we’ve mattered to people we hardly even know. 


To break a big roomful of hearts with word of our deaths is inevitable — and so very good — when we’ve been riotously good for the world. 





4 Responses to “How to Know You’ve Lived Outrageously Well”

  1. Gene McLeod Says:

    Michael, Your comments were wonderful at the service and knowing Bob and Dani I am familiar with many of those stories. Have you ever thought about a ministerial career??

    • Gene, you’re so very kind. It was a towering honor, my friend. As for my being a minister, I speak in many churches, but doubt there’s a seminary that would put up with me. The ministry of orating where I’m asked will go with me to my final breath, though, inspired in no small measure by the great Bob Lawrence!! Thank you for your kindness. So many of us carry on as Friends of Bob!!

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