Tribute to a life well lived

Recently, I received a telephone call from the daughter of Andy Blodget, a good friend of mine from San Luis Obispo. She told me that her father had died after having a heart attack the night before. This was a genuine shock, because Andy was only 52 years old and apparently in good health. Neither he nor his family had a prior history of heart disease.

In today’s world, to die at 52 years of age of “natural causes” is simply too short a life, and I truly grieve for Andy and his family. But as I was driving up to his funeral last weekend, I was thinking that if I could design a good, useful and almost-perfect life, Andy’s would be the one. First of all, and most importantly, he was devout as a husband and a father. In fact, in my view, the biggest insight into people’s character is to look at the family lives they have led and the children they have raised. And in that regard, Andy was truly exemplary.

He was also a self-made man who was successful in his profession, to the extent that he was able to retire from the flower business in his early 40s. Thereafter he was a successful founder of a small bank and a winery, and also was involved in several notable philanthropic activities. And throughout all of his dealings, he acted with such integrity that I told many other people, as well as Andy himself, that without hesitation I would trust him with the safety and well being of my own family, as well as whatever treasure I had accumulated.

But the lasting message that this tragedy left me with is the reason I am interrupting my discussion about Iceland and devoting today’s column to this subject, and that is to remember to enjoy and make use of your life while you have it. Our time on this planet is short and life can be fickle because, as I used to tell my jurors, tomorrow we could be hit by a train.

So at all times, keep in mind what is important and what is not. “My yacht is bigger than your yacht,” and “I am more glamorous or beautiful than you” are false gods. And it is also true that our possessions can eventually own us if we are not careful. Yes, Andy made a lot of money, but family and integrity were always first and, as examples, his dependable Ford pickup truck and Timex watch suited him just fine.

Another way of looking at this, which I have tried to keep in mind, is to think that if you were on your deathbed and looking back over your life, would you feel that you had used your time on this Earth wisely? If not, it is not too late to change your approach. Unlike most people who have ever walked the face of the Earth, most of us are genuinely blessed to have many opportunities to try different things, and spend our time and resources on efforts that really matter.

So if Andy were still here, I think he would reaffirm that we should follow our passions — and not hold back. Another way of describing this thought is to cite a quote sometimes attributed to Mark Twain or Satchel Paige that in life we should “Sing like no one’s listening, love like you’ve never been hurt, and dance like nobody’s watching.”

Yes, there is a time for caution, but mostly that is overrated. Pursuing reasonable but mostly unbridled passion is what makes a life worth living, particularly if it results in helping other people.

In a related but similar matter, before we take a position on anything, we should try to understand the opposite point of view. In reality, we really cannot intelligently be in favor of anything unless we can see the opposite side of the question through the eyes of someone who believes it. Yes, that approach takes effort and can slow us down, but isn’t that the whole idea about acting with integrity?

So please join with me in remembering the life of people like my friend Andy Blodget. His life was too short but he did it right, and he will be an inspiration to me for the rest of my life for that reason. To take that a step further, please join me in a toast to Andy and the other people like him that you know that have lived such successful lives.

And if we follow their lead, maybe, just like with Andy, we too, when we face St. Peter at the Pearly Gates, will have him find our names in the Book of Life, review the lives we have lived, and look at us and say: “Well done!”

Judge Jim Gray (Ret.)