A recent death has me thinking about epitaphs: how do you sum up a person's life in one sentence? What words would you choose to be remembered by?
An epitaph is different from famous last words, those apocryphal quips like Oscar Wilde on his deathbed saying, "Either that wallpaper goes or I do" or Winston Churchill ready to meet his maker but wondering "whether my maker is prepared for the great ordeal of meeting me." Famous last words are off the cuff; an epitaph is worthy of being carved in stone.
Epitaphs can certainly be funny: Spike Milligan's headstone really does read "I told you I was ill" and Rodney Dangerfield went with "There goes the neighborhood".
But an epitaph can be thoughtful as well. It can sum up a philosophy: Robert Frost's "I had a lover's quarrel with the world" or Charles Bukowski's pithy "Don't Try".
It can comment on the defining experience of a life. Leonard Matlovich's reads, "When I was in the military they gave me a medal for killing two men, and a discharge for loving one." And Primo Levi simply chose "174517", the number tattooed on his arm in Auschwitz.
With that history in mind, I decided to write my own epitaph. I haven't done anything of particular note, or had a defining experience to serve as the marker of my existence. I don't have a funny line to prank future generations with.
But I've been so lucky to live in this time and place, able to cross continents in hours, having the combined knowledge of humanity in my pocket, walking down a Berkeley street enjoying an ice cream cone in the sun. Maybe I haven't accomplished anything great, but the small pleasures have been wonderful.
So here's my epitaph: "It wasn't everything I dreamed, but so much more than I could expect."
With a Perspective, I'm Todd Adler.
Todd Adler is an intellectual property attorney in Redwood City.