Sense of Decency

Listening to others, seeing things through their eyes.

Photo © Michelle Gabel.


If life seems more than a little unsettled these days, here’s one thing you can control. 

We’re running out of time, so here’s the plan: 

Put something in writing that epitomizes your life, your world view, your beliefs — a mantra, of sorts — for your family, friends, loved ones, even people you don’t know or never will meet, to read and ponder.

The catch? It must be 15 words or fewer, and whoever reads it must smile or think fondly of you long after you’re dead.

You can choose a phrase, a favorite saying, a colloquialism, an expression often used by a loved one.

My preference is that you compose something original, but a well-known quote, song lyric or line from a poem, or a variation thereof, would be acceptable.

Why the 15-word limit? 

Brevity not only is the soul of wit, it won’t cost as much if it’s something you want on your tombstone.

Fair enough?

Think about it, and whatever you come up with, please share it in the comments. 

Your parting words, or perhaps your parting shot, could be serious or humorous or somewhere in between. 

Need inspiration?

While I have yet to decide what to leave for posterity, the idea for this assignment came to me during one of my regular morning walks in the local cemetery. 

For years I’ve walked past a tombstone for a family whose members died more than a century ago, but I had never paid attention to the epitaph (not an epithet!) until the other day — “Until the day break, and the shadows flee away,” a biblical verse from the Song of Solomon. 

Then I revisited the gravesite of 19th-century activist Matilda Joslyn Gage, a contemporary of more famous suffragists who eventually distanced themselves from her because of her more inclusive and progressive activism. 

Gage’s 14-word epitaph on her tombstone in Fayetteville, NY reads: “There is a word sweeter than mother, home or heaven. That word is liberty.”

My mind wandered to another gravesite I had visited more than 30 years ago, in County Sligo, Ireland, of poet William Butler Yeats. His epitaph reads, “Cast a cold eye on life, on death. Horseman, pass by.”

I don’t know how many Irish people smile at that or think fondly of Yeats, but I’m sure they argue about what he meant by those 11 words.

I considered choosing, “Time wounds all heels,” the title of a longish letter I wrote to my three sons many years ago in an attempt to dispense whatever wisdom — and to confront my failings — of my life at that time. 

That clever turn of phrase comes from a former journalism professor at The Ohio State University, Walt Seifert, who began every class by writing (in chalk on a blackboard) an “Rx,” a prescription of sorts for life. Or at least for that day. 

I can’t plagiarize a journalism professor, of all people.

I have a shortlist of other possibilities, but I’ll hold off on sharing them for now. 

The clock is ticking. You have homework.

Jim McKeever is a co-founder of Sense of Decency. He wants to be remembered fondly, but is tempted to leave a snarky parting shot, rather than something kind or inspirational.

10 thoughts on “How do you want to be remembered?

  1. Jim McKeever says:

    Reblogged this on Jim McKeever and commented:

    In 15 words or fewer, write something that will bring a smile to whoever reads it long after you’re dead.


  2. I’ve been contemplating this for years. I have yet to come up with the ‘best’ statement yet. But I love the brevity of the challenge.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jim McKeever says:

      Colleen, I imagine it’s difficult for you to choose from among all the wonderful things you’ve written. Seriously! (Would you consider a Top 15?) 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you Jim. I could try to narrow it down !

        Liked by 1 person

  3. Great idea. I want to be remembered for enjoying my life, my friends and especially my family.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jim McKeever says:

      Thank you, Mary, that is excellent — and exactly 15 words!


  4. W.A. McLaughlin says:

    Unfortunately, I have no brilliant original contribution. It seems, “I told you I was sick” has already been claimed.

    But I’ve often thought that this quote from Jean Giono, from his novel, “The Joy of Man’s Desiring” would be a subtle nudge to those that came after.

    “The essential thing is to become again the light vagabonds of the Earth.”

    It seems so much of our troubles, individually and collectively, come from grasping too much, too tightly. A lighter approach to life–less stuff, more giving than taking, embracing impermanence etc. would go a long way to creating a more harmonious and just world. Of course, that’s a lot to ask from just 13 words! Thanks for the excellent challenge!


    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jim McKeever says:

      That is such a great quote, Bill, thank you! It’s so true, as is your reflection on it. I have known a lot of miserable people who have a lot of “stuff,” with zero regard as to its source, the labor and oppression behind it, the cost to the environment, etc. I saw something posted somewhere today, a photo of a fancy development (not a “neighborhood”) with a sign, “Sycamore Estates.” The author observed something like, “We name our homes after the trees we cut down to build them.” I’d much rather be a light vagabond. Stay well, and we’ll talk soon.


  5. Katherine says:

    What comes to me is “Tread lightly on the earth.”

    My father was a Presbyterian minister and his tombstone says “A sinner saved by grace.”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Jim McKeever says:

      I like both of those, Katherine … I didn’t know your father was a minister!


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