…by Prill Boyle

You wouldn\’t know it from reading People magazine, but the value of your life probably won\’t end up being measured by how much money you made or how well-known you were. A few generations down the road, it\’s likely no one will remember what you accomplished. (If you don\’t believe me, ask a group of junior high school students who Paul Newman is.)

So whenever you\’re faced with a difficult choice, or simply wondering whether to head in a new direction, the best way I know to get your priorities straight is to ask yourself how you would feel on your deathbed if you\’d actually done whatever it is you\’re thinking about doing. The beauty of the “deathbed test” is that it not only encourages you to listen to your heart and follow its path, but also to consider the footprints you\’re leaving behind.

As I write this, I\’m reminded of my parents\’ neighbor Larry, who was bedridden for over a decade with multiple sclerosis. Presuming that he hadn\’t had much contact with anyone outside of his family, I expected a light turnout at his funeral.

But when I got to the church, I found a policeman directing traffic and the sanctuary filled. A standing-room only crowd.

After the minister spoke, Larry\’s wife opened the floor to anyone who wanted to say something about her husband. I was worried that nobody would respond. But one by one, literally dozens of people stood up and described how this man, without leaving his bed, had touched their lives.

It turns out that quietly, with no fanfare, numbers of folks in my town had been reading to Larry, doing his laundry, and taking care of his most basic needs. My parents and I never noticed all the angels entering and leaving the house next door. We had no idea that Larry was loved by so many. My mother and I were in tears (my father had already passed away), as was everyone around me. Larry couldn\’t even wash himself. Yet according to those who spoke, he never lost his sense of humor, never let his situation get the best of him.

There is no right or wrong answer to the deathbed test. It\’s the most personal question there is. But whatever you decide, remember the Larrys of the world and take heart that no matter what your circumstances, you can still make a difference.

Prill Boyle is the author of Defying Gravity: A Celebration of Late-Blooming Women (Emmis Books, 2004). To read more stories, go to Prilll\’s blog: http://defyinggravitynow.blogspot.com.