by Claire van Ryn
You are flicking through the paper when you stumble across a story with your name in the headline – it’s your own obituary. There in black and white is your life story, a weighing-up of your achievements and legacy.
This was the reality for Alfred Nobel.
When his brother Ludvig passed away while visiting Cannes in 1888, a French newspaper erroneously printed that Alfred had died. He opened the paper to find out what had been written about his brother only to find an account of his own life, describing him as the inventor of dynamite.
“Le marchand de la mort est mort,” the obituary stated (The merchant of death is dead). “Dr Alfred Nobel, who became rich by finding ways to kill more people faster than ever before, died yesterday,” the article continued.
I think it would be safe to say that Alfred was shocked and disappointed with what he read that day about his contribution to mankind.
Faced with this unique situation, he recognised an opportunity to rewrite his own legacy – the legacy most of us connect with the surname Nobel today. In 1895, Alfred Nobel signed his last will and testament, setting aside 94 per cent of his immense total assets (after taxes and bequests to individuals) to establishing the Nobel Prizes, to be awarded each year, without distinction of nationality, to people who furthered the cause of peace. And today, Nobel’s legacy is irrefutably wrapped up in the Nobel Peace Prize to the point where few people would realise his connection with dynamite.
It’s highly unlikely that you and I will have an obituary printed in the local rag years ahead of our actual demise. But we have the same opportunity as Nobel did to stop, take stock, and live more purposefully in line with our values and what’s important – those things that will outlast us. Perhaps it would be a good exercise to write our own obituary, the kind we’d be proud of, and stick it to the fridge door as a reminder of who we should be striving to become.
Mine would be 1 Corinthians 13:4-7, replacing the word ‘love’ with Claire.
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”
Of course, I’m not for a minute suggesting that I’ve nailed these attributes. Because Claire is not always patient or kind, she does envy and boast, and is self seeking. It’s a journey.
There’d be something in there about responding to need too. Jesus had such a soft heart for the vulnerable.
“Do for ONE what you wish you could do for everyONE,” is a quote that’s been making the rounds on Facebook and has stuck in my mind. Nobel gave a great example of generosity too. He gave extravagantly out of his immense wealth, but we can still give extravagantly out of modest wealth – or no wealth. Generosity is not dependent on the size of our wallets, but the size of our hearts.
I’m still working out how I’m going to respond to this particular need but I know one thing for certain: I’m loath to pass up an opportunity to lend a hand to the vulnerable, as Jesus taught us.
First published in The Examiner newspaper for Keeping the Faith column. Read more of Claire’s musings at www.faithlikeamushroom.