the Right Time to do the Right Thing
Throughout my life I’ve sat through many lectures, ceremonies, and sermons. While I can tell you the content of many lectures and a good deal of sermons, I’m fairly certain I recall nothing that was said during my four commencements, my wedding, or any of the events I sat through as a musician over the years.
Some lectures stuck with me because of the subject, and others because of the professor. One of my favorites was a college science class in which we read the book The Making of the Atomic Bomb by Richard Rhodes — it was the first massive book I ever read, and the discussion was interesting and history in it valuable. Another eye-opening experience was spending January 2000 learning about World War I from two wonderful professors; I still recite In Flanders Fields every Memorial Day, and now my children know it as well. My elementary music education class required students to lead each other in singing children’s songs and rhymes such as Wee Willie Winkie. We felt ridiculous, but learned so much that it took years for me to truly value it all.
Sermons may be a little more difficult to recall as a whole, but some special moments from church services stand out to me. Pastor Rick Reynolds once made reference to the quote, “Preach the gospel to everyone you meet; use words if you have to,” on a Wednesday night when I was in high school. It immediately made a huge impression on me, and I still have the piece of paper on which I wrote it. I also think back to a message Rev. Shane Bishop gave on how our religious perspective is shaped not only by the Bible, but also by our own reason, tradition, and experience. Upon hearing it I was immediately skeptical, but it has crossed my mind regularly over the last 15 years, helping me become more empathetic and refrain from self-righteousness.
Ceremonies, on the other hand, always seem … boring. Once I was tasked with playing a drum roll for the entirety of Pomp & Circumstance. Most ceremonies are every bit as monotonous to me as that snare drum part. Bleh.
As I contemplated writing resolutions on New Year’s Eve, however, I was reminded of the words Minnesota Supreme Court Justice David Stras said (paraphrasing Martin Luther King, Jr.) on the day I was sworn into the Wisconsin Bar: “There is never a bad time to do the right thing; it is always the right time to do the right thing.”
I paused. I didn’t need a resolution to work on this year.
Sure, I could come up with a grand plan for always showing up on time, eating healthier/exercising more, and keeping my house perfectly clean, but reality says that (1) none of those things were going to happen like clockwork beginning on January 1st, (2) my kids are 6 and 2, and adamantly against all three of those goals, and (3) I don’t need perfection; I need improvement. What I really want to do is start making better choices every time I have the opportunity to do the right thing.
In my law practice I was surprised to find that having wills drawn up is a popular resolution. Since the beginning of the year I’ve already had more phone calls from new clients than I did in my first six months of business. Along with those who are getting things taken care of because that was their plan to start 2019, however, was a call from the family of a man who passed away unexpectedly at age 61 with his will unsigned. It was heartbreaking to explain that even though he had it drawn up by a lawyer, if the will isn’t signed and witnessed properly, then he died without a will.
Putting an estate plan together usually takes a meeting or two, plus a signing conference. Yes, there are beneficiary designations to confirm and often a transfer on death deed to record, but for the most part it takes two or three hours of your time over the course of a month while your lawyer helps you through the paperwork. Getting your estate plan in order — and avoiding the confusion and frustration my clients are facing at the moment — is the right thing to do.
And if it’s the right thing to do, then it’s the right time to do it.
(Okay, a couple of disclaimers so I don’t get in trouble with friends and family: My very first memory of a ceremony was my brother, Larry, giving a speech at his graduation … and it was actually funny because he messed up and said, “Rewind,” but that is literally the only word of his speech I remember. Also, my wedding wasn’t boring, but it was insanely windy that day and it was all I could do to stand up straight and keep my heels from sinking into the wet grass!)