Eleanor Roosevelt has been called the most influential American woman of the Twentieth Century. This isn’t her actual gravestone epitaph, but it’s how she’s remembered, so we might call it her practical epitaph. Will Rogers’s memorial epitaph reads, “I never met a man I didn’t like.” It’s one of Will’s famous lines, which captures his spirit for those of us who never knew him.
Reclusive but influential poet Emily Dickinson’s epitaph in Amherst, Massachusetts reads simply, “Called Back.” The Temperance Movement reformer, Carrie Amelia Nation, who used a hatchet to attack saloons and wrote her name “Carry A Nation” for the publicity value, was laid to rest with this eloquent epitaph in Belton, Missouri: “She hath done what she could.”
Old cemetery epitaphs are often thought provoking and entertaining reading. A gravestone in Thurmont, Maryland says: "Here lies an atheist. All dressed up and no place to go." Or how about this one in Round Rock, Texas? “I told you I was sick.”
One gravestone in New Mexico says, "Here lies the body of John Yeast. Pardon me for not rising." An epitaph in Winterborn Steepleton Cemetery, Dorsetshire, England reads, "Here lies the body of Margaret Bent. She kicked up her heels and away she went."
And then there's this one from Florida: "I promise never to marry again, Jack." Now was Jack trying to say his marriage had been so bad he didn't want to experience it again, or so good he pledged his troth to his wife forever? Or was he saying he'd been married several times and finally had had enough?
One of the most complimentary epitaphs you’re ever likely to read is written upon the West Point gravestone of Lt. Col. Herbert Bainbridge Hayden. It reads: "In appreciation of a loyal friend, a square man, an efficient officer, in every way a thoroughbred."
We’re also creating legacies with our families and our associates. Every day, we're influencing someone in a spiritually productive or unproductive way. Everyday our actions become reputations become legacies become epitaphs, the summary of our life and how we will be remembered.
What will your epitaph be? What will your associates write? What will God write?
Epitaphs don’t just happen to us. They are crafted by our choices day by day, so in a very real sense, we can write our own epitaph. Perhaps the greatest epitaph a person could hope to have is simply this: "Here lies the body of a godly man/woman who loved God and loved others."
© Rex M. Rogers – All Rights Reserved, 2011
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