Wednesday, August 03, 2005

How Do You Measure A Life?

In the Broadway musical Rent, the theme song "Seasons of Love" poses the question "how do you measure a life?" After this past week, spending time with the Karmelich family, helping prepare for the funeral, and attending the funeral yesterday, it's certainly a question that has been going through my mind. Nothing like a funeral to give you a dose of perspective.

Ben Karmelich had some definite ideas about how to measure a life. He firmly believed in the value of a good education. The first in his family to go to college, he graduated from UC Berkeley and took graduate courses at USC. Years later, in his 60's, he spent part of a summer taking classes at Oxford, just for the pleasure of broadening his education.

He also believed in working hard and becoming successful. The child of a Croatian immigrant fisherman who died when Ben was 18, he worked his own way through college while helping to support his mother and younger siblings. After college, he worked in banks, working his way up to branch manager. In 1968, he started his own bank with 3 employees, and when he retired in 1993, his bank had 11 branches, 200 employees, and 25 consecutive years of profit and growth.

Most importantly, he believed in family. His family was his greatest joy, and his idea of success was to be happily married, to have children, and to raise his children to be well-educated, successful, happily married, and have children of their own. Ben enjoyed 47 years of happy marriage. Through his loving support and inspirational example, all of his four sons are very successful in their careers, and Ben lived to know six grandchildren from three of his sons. And just days before he died, Ben learned that his son Mark and Mark's wife Heather were expecting their first child. At the funeral, there were collages of photos from Ben's life, and especially in the ones from his sons' weddings, you could just see him beaming. I can only imagine how filled with joy he was at Mark and Heather's news.

One might also measure a life by how many people come to your funeral. Ben was kind, generous, and warm-hearted, and he touched the lives of many people, through his good treatment of his employees and customers, through his involvement in a litany of community organizations, and through his genuine interest in the lives of his extended family and many friends. Yesterday at the funeral, there were nearly 400 people to attest to the esteem in which he was held, including some who traveled great distances just to be there.

I'd say with some confidence that Ben Karmelich knew how to measure a life, and he was blessed to live his life to his fullest measures. He was not only blessed, but he was a blessing to those who knew him. His clear values, his example of living out his values, and his great joy in living such a life are an inspiration worth striving for.

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