About seven months ago I spent a lovely summer afternoon with my wife’s family celebrating my mother-in-law’s 80th birthday. That evening, shortly after we came home from the birthday party I received one of those phone calls that you never want to get. A long time friend of mine, Dan Stone, had passed away as a result of injuries he sustained in a motorcycle accident that afternoon.
Shock and disbelief ripped through me. Dan was the same age as me, a father of three and one of his daughters is the same age as my daughter. My heart was broken at the thought of his children living the rest of their lives without their dad. Dan’s untimely passing was not just crushing for me but for the entire community. At his celebration of life nearly 1000 people attended and countless numbers came forward to tell stories of how Dan influenced their lives. You see – Dan was a difference maker. He was one of those guys who affect change in the people around them. And what is really beautiful is how he did it. Dan did not hold a high and powerful position, nor was he politically active. He did not have tons of money that he used to help change the world. He didn’t have any of those highly prized educational letters behind his name that we put so much value on. What he created was not the kind of change that you would associate with activism or social justice. Dan simply loved people. Every person that he interacted with in a day would come away feeling appreciated, cared for and accepted. And Dan wanted to use that interaction to bring happiness into their life. He wanted every person to have more happiness in their life, without exception, no matter who it was. Dan was an exceptionally happy guy and he would do anything to bring some kind of joy to whoever was around him. Dan would give the biggest friendliest hello to a perfect stranger. He would give the biggest hug to anybody (even if he only knew them slightly) and he was always ready with the dumbest, corniest joke you’ve ever heard. And even if you didn’t think it was funny you still laughed because he thought it funny. Every person that Dan Stone met became his friend. He was real, he was true and he was genuine. He didn’t care what people thought about him. He just tried to love every person that he met the best that he could.
Dan wasn’t a perfect person. He had his faults and made his share of mistakes. And he struggled and fought through the challenges that life threw at him, just like everybody else does. But that’s not what people remember about him. They remember what he gave to the people around him in the time that he had.
In the months that followed this tragedy I found myself thinking, “How can I be more like Dan?”
I believe it starts with an attitude or maybe something more like the choice to have a particular daily mental position. That position being “the people around me are more important than myself.”
It’s a challenge to find the time to give to others in the daily grind that is our lives. But I think it’s a worthwhile endeavor to put others ahead of ourselves. If there’s one lesson we can learn from Dan’s life it’s that, after you’re gone, people will most likely not remember how well you took care of yourself. That’s not to say we shouldn’t take care of ourselves but the celebration at the end by the people who loved us will most likely be about how well we took care of others.