It is said that toward the end of the nineteenth century, Swedish chemist Alfred Nobel awoke one morning to read his own obituary in the local newspaper: “The merchant of death is dead. Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite, who died yesterday, devised a way for more people to be killed in a war than ever before, and he died a very rich man.”
Apparently, it was Alfred's older brother who had died; somebody on the paper had bungled the epitaph. Needless to say, Nobel was quite taken aback. But the account had a profound effect on the man. It is believed that the emotion of reading his own obituary led him to set aside the bulk of his estate to establish the Nobel Foundation that bestows annual awards for cultural and scientific advances, as well as for the Nobel Peace Prize, presented to those who foster peace.
“Every man,” Nobel said, “ought to have the chance to correct his epitaph in midstream and write a new one.”
What a grand idea!
Something like that happened to Kelsey Grammer, playing Dr. Frasier Crane in the TV show Frasier. He had to go to the ER one day, but after a long wait, returned home.
Soon after, his name was called in the ER, and someone else in line answered, just to get ahead. But then this guy suddenly died of a heart attack in the ER and the evening news reported that Frasier Crane had passed way. The newspaper published his obituary the next day.
Frasier, reading the report, is understandably shocked. But then he suddenly realizes that he is actually not dead yet, decides that this misreporting is a wake-up call. So he goes ahead and writes his own obituary, as an impetus to do what he had hitherto left undone in life.
“Dr. Crane came late to athletics, he became a fixture in the Seattle marathon, the America’s Cup yacht race, as well as the Kentucky Derby [as a stable owner].” He also added that he had taught psychiatry to children online, traveled to South America, taken up rafting, and that he had been fluent in Russian.
But you know, while the concept of correcting one’s own epitaph in midstream and writing a new one is exhilarating, it can get out of hand, like it did with Frasier.
Some kind of focus and concentration is essential. One just cannot do everything. Write books, play the cello, find the cure for melanoma, be the best preacher ever, play for a national cricket team, be an authority on Bach, ride a Harley across the country, eat a cheesecake every day, …. Oh, well.
Life is short. Obituaries need to be written. What will yours and mine say?
One thing I do:
forgetting what lies behind and
reaching forward to what lies ahead …
No point fretting over lost time and years. No point agonizing over missed opportunities and foolish actions. Past sins and follies are just that—past. For the believer in Christ those are forgiven and forgotten.
Paul exhorts us to look ahead for the rewards in heaven. Prepare for those prizes.
… I press on toward the goal
for the prize of the upward call
of God in Christ Jesus.
Focus on a few things. Or even one thing. And let’s do it the best we can, for the glory of God, in the power of the Spirit, for the sake of Jesus Christ.
… whatever you do,
do all to the glory of God.
1 Corinthians 10:31