Monday, September 05, 2005

Dying withyour boots on

The death of Chief Justice William Rehnquist is now competing with news of hurricane Katrina on morning news shows. He died with his boots on – still serving vigorously, still overseeing the court and writing opinions, while fighting the encroachments of thyroid cancer.

The Chief Justice was passionate about his work and according to all reports, found it deeply fulfilling. There can be no better way to live one’s life, it seems to me. Rehnquist also had the privilege of a lifetime appointment, he could choose to retire or not. His choice was unequivocal.

There are many reasons to retire, but surely one of the saddest is “so I can do what I really want to do.” This implies that much or all of the retiree's working life has been spent ‘doing what I did not want to do.’ How often do young men and women embark on a profession or career, only to discover that it evokes no passion in them; that it provides little fulfillment for them? But by that time, the other parts of their life may be well under way. They have accumulated a spouse, children, a mortgage, a savings plan for college tuition, possibly nursing home expenses for aging parents. Their income has become a necessity. It has become, quite literally “compensation” – “compensation” for something they would not do otherwise.

How sad life must be one must contemplate the working day, five days of each weak, as a bleak vista of mostly unwelcome tasks that one is performing for ‘compensation.’ A recent study reported that more that fifty per-cent of Americans describe their lives in this way.

Young men and women on the threshold of careers and other life choices, among them my Anderson Hall neighbors, would do well to reflect on this. My prayer for them, this morning, is to find life-callings in which they will welcome the opportunity to die with their boots on.

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