Looking Back to Look Forward
Former Liverpool architect and author of Cancer 4 Me 5

Sometimes, in an effort to identify the direction I feel my life should take, I momentarily project myself forward to the end, and look back. I try to establish what the greatest personal achievements of my life will be, when the opportunity does eventually come to review it in full.

My thinking is that if I can evaluate what they are now, I could direct myself to pick up some more on route and try to improve my final score at the end. Why wait for them to be revealed in hindsight when it is then too late to put the information to good use. The outcome of these little, time-travel self-evaluations is that they generally produce results I was not expecting.

The route map they indicate to take me to the end of my life is often at variance to the one I was expecting to take. When I look back I don’t tend to see what I thought I might. Material possessions, career achievements or even great moments of personal happiness are never the initial things to appear.

The first thing I see, when I look back from the edge of my life, is always people.

The first thing I see, when I look back from the edge of my life, is always people. Initially I see family and friends, but then just about everybody who made a connection with me during the course of my life, comes into view. The milestones then that emerge from the life I have lived, above everything else, are the good things I did for those people. And the greatest highlights of all are when I did those things for free. The things I did without requiring any reward or acknowledgement for myself. All of the little things I did for my kids that every good father does.

My work on the shrine to St. Pio in our local church. The people I encouraged who told me my advice made a difference to them. The purity of the value of these memories remained untainted and timeless and stood out above everything else. Often, to breath some life into these little futuristic projections, and extend them beyond myself, I envisage what might be said about me on the afternoon of my funeral.

The formalities will have been dispensed with and everybody will have retired back to the little hotel in the town where I live to connect, and socialize, and reminisce over a few drinks. It is one of the greatest parts of a traditional Irish funeral. The part where it is almost becomes indistinguishable from an Irish wedding. The only difference is there is one person less in the room.

What will those people they be saying about me. What will I want them to be saying. I hope they will say that he was essentially a good man. He generally tried to do the best he could. I would want them to say that when cancer came, even though everything was against him, he never gave up. He fought tooth and nail to try and stay alive for his family. They will say he wrote a book. But I would want them to say he didn’t write it for glory or reward. He gave away more copies then he sold. He wrote it because he knew what it would have done for him if somebody had given it to him.

They will say he told his story. But I would want them to say he never charged anybody to tell that story. He realized he had been given a gift and the very essence of a gift is it has been given freely to be given freely. If you use your gift for your own benefit you are cashing in its true value. You are spoiling its purity.

None of the things I see when I look back relate to ambition or money or possessions. They do not appear to stand the test of time. To give, and give freely seems to be the greatest virtue that any of us can have. The rewards from these memories are both timeless and absolute. So the lesson I learn is that it is not about the things you have. It will always be about how you connect with the people that you meet. We are all far greater than anything we own will ever be. And the greatest milestones will always be about others, rather than yourself.

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