In the wake of a tragedy, like the one that took my friend’s 25-year-young life last week, a lot of people ask the question, “What could I have done?!” The profound pain of recent loss incites promises of “never forgetting” or “doing such-and-such in someone’s honor.” Sadly, as time passes and grief’s edges get sanded down a bit to something less jagged, we don’t forget exactly, but we fail to make good on our promise to act.
At Riley’s memorial service, I implored the people to simply “do something!”…Call a lonely friend, give money to a certain charity, join a support group…the list is endless. But I asked them not to stop there, with the internal promise to do something. I suggested that we all have an ever-present memory-jogger these days called the smart phone. As someone who is remarkably forgetful (ask my wife or students, and they’ll happily share examples, probably from within the past hour), I cannot imagine returning to the days before the smart phone calendar and reminders. When something I need to do is called to my attention, I immediately put it in my calendar and set it to remind me, knowing that if I go even a few minutes before doing so, I’ll forget. And in situations like Riley’s OCD, addictions, and untimely death, well, forgetting should not be an option.
So I’m issuing a challenge to anyone who has ever wanted to “do something” but ended up failing to follow through:
Put a reminder in your phone and set it to repeat weekly, monthly (whatever makes most sense) indefinitely…FOREVER.
A few tips to make it easier to follow through:
1. Be realistic – if your reminder is to buy a homeless person a new car every week, that’s probably not going to happen. Make it a reminder to talk to the homeless guy you pass every day on the way to work at least once a week. That’s more realistic.
2. Start small. Pick something you know you can actually accomplish. “Start a non-profit that eventually cures cancer” is a great idea, but if you pick “spend 5 minutes researching the kind of cancer grandma died from,” those 5 minutes once a week might eventually lead to the other, much bigger objective. But even if it doesn’t, by taking the step to educate yourself, you are much more likely to figure out a next step sometime down the road.
3. Make it as personal as possible. If you connect your task to a person you love (or to someone’s memory), you attach a face to the task at hand.
4. Pick something that’s literally close to home. A family member, a neighbor, an organization that’s 10 minutes away…these make follow-through much more realistic.
5. Don’t over-think it; just get started. If you’re like me, you are going to want to turn this into some cosmically important assignment, and you’ll obsess about picking just the right reminder to put in your phone. I was feeling this way, too, before I gave Riley’s eulogy. I felt like I should go ahead and do what I was going to tell others to do before I actually got up to speak. So, I created a reminder for something I had already wanted to do: call Riley’s mom, Margaret, at least once a week. I know that in the aftermath of a loss, people are very good about being supportive at first, but gradually they go back to their own lives. Margaret and I even talked last Saturday night about all of the people who show up now in support but who didn’t do anything while Riley was alive despite knowing he was suffering. I suppose that by posting this I’m even more “on the hook” with this commitment than I would be if I didn’t make this challenge a public one. But that’s good, and it leads me to the final tip I have…
6. Get someone (or the entire internet/Facebook/Twitter…) to keep you accountable. Tell others what you plan to do, and give them the liberty to hold you to it. So, my friends, you have the liberty to hold me to supporting Margaret long after the immediacy has faded (maybe that should be your reminder: “Remind Tim to check on Margaret”!).
So, I guess I’ll risk feeling somewhat hokey here and make this official…TAKE THE CHALLENGE: DO SOMETHING…AND THEN KEEP DOING IT FOREVER!
Please feel free to use the comment section of this post, my Facebook wall, or my Twitter feed to SHARE your commitment/task with me and others.