Award-winning journalist Michael Hastings died June 18th in a car crash in Los Angeles. He was 33. The celebrated reporter left an indelible mark on the journalism world, reminiscent of the scores of veterans that preceded him. Hastings was known for his hard-hitting, no-nonsense reporting that resulted in the 2010 resignation of Gen. Stanley McChrystal, the then-leader of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars. His work at acclaimed publications like Newsweek, Buzz Feed and Rolling Stone drew readers into war zones and political debates with a persuasive imagery that few penmans achieve. Hastings was a gem.
Will Dana, Rolling Stone’s managing editor, sums up Hastings’ legacy best in his tribute to the fallen journalist.
“Great reporters exude a certain kind of electricity, the sense that there are stories burning inside them, and that there’s no higher calling or greater way to live life than to be always relentlessly trying to find and tell those stories. I’m sad that I’ll never get to publish all the great stories that he was going to write, and sad that he won’t be stopping by my office for any more short visits which would stretch for two or three completely engrossing hours. He will be missed.”
Hastings life has been memorialized through Twitter and a special five-minute segment on MSNBC’s The Rachel Maddow Show, an ode to the connections he established in the journalism business. It’s clear that his work will continue to breathe long after his remains have been interred; but the lives he’s touched in the short time he spent on Earth should prompt us all to consider the legacies we hope to leave behind.
Obituaries are morbid reminders of the finality of death. We will all have them. The question is whether it will be filled with the memories of a life well-lived or those of regret, of hesitance, of thinking too much and not fulfilling enough dreams. I was mortified when an eighth grade English professor assigned us the task of penning our own obituaries. “You all have greatness inside,” he told the stunned class. “Let it bleed on the page.” I bombed that assignment, too afraid of the imminent end to grasp the importance of the task.
We shouldn’t be shackled to the death that awaits us, but our obituaries must be something we should all consider, if for no other reason than to gauge what we’ve accomplished and if it will matter after we’re gone.
Dr. Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite, never considered his death until he was reading the newspaper one morning and discovered his obituary inside. Nobel’s brother had died, but the newspaper mistakenly printed his obituary instead of his sibling’s.
The headline read, “The merchant of death is dead.” It continued:
“Dr. Alfred Nobel, who became rich by finding ways to kill more people faster than ever before, died yesterday.”
Noble was dissatisfied, realizing the legacy he would leave behind didn’t mirror his objectives for his life. Legend has it that stumbling on his obituary prompted the chemist to donate a portion of his estate to the establishment of the Nobel Foundation. He is no longer the merchant of death. Instead, the Nobel Foundation awards the Nobel Peace Prize to humanitarians around the world.
Seeing his obituary changed Noble’s legacy. Writing an obit gives us the opportunity to do as Noble did. Lifehack, a renowned digital publication that offers life-improvement tips, encourages all people to write two obituaries that answer several important questions.
Write an obituary as a true account of your life to date. As an alternative, if you want to be more objective, you can ask a friend or family member who knows you well to do it for you. When it’s ready, look over your obituary and ask yourself questions such as the following:
If I died today, would I die happy?
Am I satisfied with the direction in which my life is headed?
Am I happy with the legacy that I’m creating?
What’s missing from my life?
What do I need to do in order for my obituary to be “complete?”
Then, write a fantasy obituary in which you write down all of the things you wish you had done with your life. What does this exercise tell you? You’re not dead yet, so get out there and start making any changes that you need to so that you can “live up” to your fantasy obituary.
Hastings obit will be full of the love he left through his words. Shouldn’t we all strive to achieve the same?