A Model for Living

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Do you have photos on the walls and shelves in your home or has the quaint concept of printing and displaying them gone the way of phone booths, cassette tape decks, and old fashioned letter writing? In our home, photos are proudly displayed on our walls, on our shelves, and in memory books full of prints from trips and moments. They are an ever-present reminder of the people and memories that bring specialness to our lives.

Occasionally, I will take a few minutes and walk around looking at framed photos or picking up picture albums. On a tour through some photos in our kitchen, I stopped at a frame holding three pictures from a trip to Brazil with my wife, Sally’s, parents and sister in 2007. Two years after that trip, Sally’s father, Roy, died in a tragic fall from atop some scaffolding.


One sees much in a snapshot: smiling faces, memorable places, clothes once worn, togetherness. The image invites us back to a moment in time when things were different. Walking through that frame, we wistfully feel connected to the stream of time within our life. We can take a second and remember. Then, we fast forward to our current life and notice something missing. Remembering the moment is a gift. Part of that gift is noticing what’s missing now.

Consider your own life. Who’s passing has left a noticeable gap in your day-to-day existence? Passing doesn’t necessarily mean passed away. People pass in and out of our lives frequently. God-willing, we will pass through many seasons in our life and others will appear on the scene and fade into the background as we, or they, move on. Some, we may struggle to remember. Others, we will never forget.

In his 2012 book, Linchpin, Seth Godin challenged us to make ourselves indispensable by being difference makers in our organizations. It’s good counsel, however, I think we need to think more broadly.

Looking at the photos in my house, I see empty places where those who mattered to me once stood. Gaps in my world that only they could fill. Considering my life of nearly 51 years, I see many faces that have come and gone, however, only a few gaps that will never be filled. Gaps I savor as an echo across my life.

An Empty Space

Think about the place you hold in the lives of those around you. When you move on, what empty space will you leave? Will you walk away and know that your sandy footprints were quickly filled-in by time’s shifting tides? Or, will your outline be forever cast into the stone frieze depicting the story of each life you’ve touched?

What would happen if we approached life with the intention to leave a gap in the world when we move on? Would our relationships be any richer? Would our efforts be more complete? How would we treat others if our goal was to make sure that they would miss us when we’re gone?

Perhaps, being indispensable is really about impacting others so profoundly that our absence is really felt. I’m not talking about some kind of unhealthy dependency. I’m talking about looking at a photograph of someone now gone and feeling the longing for who that person was and all the good that they brought to your life just because they were there. Just because.

Maybe, just maybe, that is a worthy model toward which to strive.

  • Jerry Berry

    Excellent piece Phillip. I share your journeys of pictures and they always are fun, I too think of, occasionally, whether there will be a “gap” in my “circle of ?? “ when I retire from life.

    When I think back about high school, I see now a bunch older , some frail and aged classmates that I have a special feeing for and I always end the thought with, “I hope I was nice to them in school” and that is what they feel when they see my picture.

    Well done.

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