Everything Falls Away by Parker J. Palmer
Sooner or later, everything falls away.
You, the work you’ve done, your successes,
large and small, your failures, too. Those
moments when you were light, along-
side the times you became one with the
night. The friends, people you loved
who loved you, those who might have
wished you ill, none of this is forever. All
of it is soon to go, or going, or long gone.
Everything falls away, except the thread
you’ve followed, unknowing, all along.
The thread that strings together all you’ve
been and done, the thread you didn’t know
you were tracking until, toward the end,
you see that the thread is what stays
as everything else falls away.
Follow that thread as far as you can and
you’ll find that it does not end, but weaves
into the unimaginable vastness of life. Your
life never was the solo turn it seemed to be.
It was always part of the great weave of
nature and humanity, an immensity we
come to know only as we follow our own
small threads to the place where they
merge with the boundless whole.
Each of our threads runs its course, then
joins in life together. This magnificent tapestry—
this masterpiece in which we live forever.
Reflection: Following the Thread
Please visit our YouTube channel to watch Rev. Ann Marie’s video recording of this reflection.
Integrity stems from the Latin word ‘integer’ which means whole and complete. We think of integrity as that which requires a sense of inner ‘wholeness’ that is visible to others in a consistency of character.
Your actions, words, decisions, methods, reveal whether you are person of integrity or not. When you are ‘whole’ and consistently recognizable as the character you are, there is only one you. You bring that same you wherever you go, regardless of the circumstance. There is no difference between the ‘work you,’ the ‘family you,’ or the ‘social you.’ You are YOU all the time.
If this is true about you, that you are a person of integrity, what phrase might your friends, or your family, recognize as definitely YOU, if it were chiseled on your gravestone? What would your inscription say?
Some of you may be familiar with some of the funny epitaphs graveyard detectives have found:
Damn, it is dark down here
Pardon me for not rising.
I told you I was sick.
Perhaps the persons who chose these were witty and sarcastic all through their lives! Or maybe being full of humor was the way they went out! There are also the serious messages that some folk have chosen. For example, Leonard Matlovich, the first intentionally “out” gay serviceman, chose this for his gravestone:
When I was in the military, they gave me a medal for
killing two men, and a discharge for loving one.
That certainly tells you what Leonard wanted said about his place in history.
Mark Reed, the UU minister in the Asheville, Tennessee, wrote a great sermon about Jenkin Lloyd Jones, a UU minister in the 1800s. Jones was quite a character, who lived a long life. There is a quote from Abraham Lincoln chiseled on his gravestone: “He sought to pull up a thistle and plant a flower wherever a flower could grow.”
What would you like said about your place in history? What would be your last quip? Or if your relatives are doing the picking, what inscription would you hope they choose?
What could be said that would be something your friends and family would immediately recognize and say, “Yep, that was her.”
Is it a challenge to sum your life up in a few words?
We have been talking about “integrity” this month, about aligning values and actions, about living out who we wish to be in who we are, in who we are becoming.
Today, I hope you will reflect on how you wish to be remembered… and recognize this is an exercise in achieving integrity. As Parker Palmer says:
“Sooner or later, everything falls away.
You, the work you’ve done, your successes,
large and small, your failures, too … none of this is forever. All
of it is soon to go, or going, or long gone….
Everything falls away, except the thread.”
What might the “thread” be that is yours in the “magnificent tapestry?” If you could capture your thread—in a phrase? What might that phrase be?
I don’t wish this to be a morbid exercise; rather I wish it to be fun and thought-provoking. Death is a fact of life, of course; we know that. We know that in ordinary circumstances. And we all are quite aware that we are not in ordinary circumstances.
There is no ignoring that needless, premature deaths are happening…
It is sad, and frightening.
What we can do is the same as we always do: face the reality we are in with grace and humor, and with integrity.
What would your epitaph say?