“I know that there is nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they live.” – Ecclesiastes 3:12
“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.”
Reading that quote stopped me dead in my tracks, causing me to go back and read it again, then again and again, until I became blinded by the tears in my eyes. It is from a book I am currently reading, The Time of our Lives, by journalist Peggy Noonan. But something about that one passage jumped off the page at me, stirring my soul.
It may have had something to do with the moment of time I was in. Ironically, I came across the book while browsing through a bookstore with my oldest granddaughter, Madeline, who happens to love books. The two of us were hanging out together awaiting the birth of her new baby sister, Eliana, who would arrive later the following day. Not long after that I would be holding that gorgeous tiny infant in my arms.
These back-to-back encounters, first with the oldest then the youngest — the symbolic bookends among my five grandchildren — caused me to consider what it is I hope to leave behind, what would be the most meaningful legacy to my grandchildren. (Grandparents think about things like that.) And that quote pretty much summed it up, perhaps why it struck me with such deep emotion: goodness and virtue — “generosity, honesty, courage, mercy, talents well used, talents that, brought into the world, make it better.”
King Solomon had it all — wealth, fame, wisdom, and worldly accomplishments. Yet in the Book of Ecclesiastes, his brilliant essay about life, he declares it all meaningless, except for this: “I know that there is nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they live.” Goodness and virtue — if I can teach that to my grandchildren, it would be the greatest legacy I could ever leave them — “because that’s what’s important.”