“Don’t waste another day” said our Engineering Director as we filed out of Robert’s funeral mass. A sudden heart attack prematurely took the life of one of NASA’s best engineers last week and his stunned colleagues, a group not known for expressing emotions well, exited the church with glazed looks on their faces. 51 is too young for someone who appeared to be in reasonably good health to die and for those of us of that age, his death is yet another frank reminder of our own mortality.
Whenever I attend a funeral I cannot stop imagining myself in a casket in front of the church, but fortunately these thoughts don’t continue past the service. What Robert experienced yesterday awaits us all and the only thing we can control is what we do beforehand. How do we want to be remembered when our days are over? As the priest said in his homily, Robert was known as a brilliant engineer, a “go to” guy for propulsion issues, but also as a caring friend of many, and a loving father to his four children.
As I drove away from church, the sun shined on a beautiful October day, lawn mowers whirred, and cars passed in all directions. Life moves on just as it will when we die despite our focus as the center of our own personal existence. For an hour in church and maybe a few hours afterward, we are motivated to take stock of our lives and to think about making changes. But then life’s inertia reappears and we fall back into our regular habits. John Wood, in his book Ordinary Lives, Extraordinary Mission argues that we become enslaved by our habits and resist change because we don’t want to let go of what is comfortable.
So how do we change our lives? How do we break the habits that keep us from leaving the legacy that we want? Prayerful self-assessment followed by action is needed. The time before our own funeral is getting shorter. I’ll miss my friend Robert as will everyone whose lives he touched. Thank you Robert for your life and for yesterday’s reminder to not waste another day.