Thursday, September 6, 2007

The Measure and Meaning of a Life Well-Lived

The Measure and Meaning of a Life Well-Lived
By Joshua Scott Gough, 30, about his Great-Grandmother Carola Laurel Gough, 96 (1911-2007)
August 25, 2007, First Baptist Church, Salida CO

How does one assess the both the measure and the meaning of a life well-lived?

When it comes to my great-grandma Carola the first is boundless, and the other eternal, it seems to me.

By measurement, we can look at each other and count the number of descendants from her and her husband Gene: 3 children, 13 grandchildren, 14 great-grandchildren, and even one great-great grandson. Or, we could travel the world and visit homes and cafes to see all of her paintings that hang in places like Alaska, California, Colorado, Denmark, and Africa. Further, we could scour through our cabinets and old shoe boxes and count the number of letters she wrote to each and every one of us, written by hand, and addressed by name.

She sent her own personal journals and travel diaries to my mother Kathryn, her eldest grandchild, to have her help publish her autobiography. She started the project, and now we can all help finish it. Scanning and transcribing is well underway. See for more information. So, when that project is complete, we can count the number of pages she and Gene have shared with us. All of these are treasures that we measure far greater than gold.

Lastly, by way of measurement, we can count the years she lived: 96; the number of months: 1,153; Days: more than 35,000; Hours: more than 843,000.

So, what of these numbers? What of these measurements?

When we measure our annual salary or the amount of money we need to retire in numbers far greater than the number of days and hours in a span of 96 years, what can we say about such numbers to qualify their quantity? What can we say of the quality in such quantities? What do they "mean"?

For the meaning of a life well-lived we look again to each other, to the faces of Gene and Carola's descendants and their spouses and children; we see them in ourselves.

We look at and we feel the serenity and peacefulness depicted in her paintings. And, we read and we realize with never-ending and unrepayable gratitude the dedication and passion expressed in their writings.

When we do this the message of her life reaches out and surrounds us like a big, warm blanket.

That message is love.

It is love for life.
It is love for this world.
And, most importantly, it is love for each other, whether family, friend, or foreign.

I feel like the most fortunate person to have spent so much time in my life with Gene and Carola, from the time I was about 5 until now at 30. Not many people get a chance to learn life lessons from their mother's father's parents.

Most recently, I feel so thankful that I had an opportunity to spend some precious moments with Carola last month in Alameda and to say a few loving words to her.

She gave a message for all us when I was there with Kerry. She said:

"Thank you to all of you for coming to visit me; all my kids, my grand-kids, and great-grandchildren, and friends. I love you all. If this thing works itself out, I'm going to send an announcement to all of you and we'll have a big celebration."

During her time in the hospital, whenever we mentioned going to lunch or dinner, her persistent refrain was that she wanted to make us something to eat and to sit down to eat together.

This is of course reflected in quotes from her. I spent a lot of time hiking mountains in Georgia, New York, and Colorado with her. On these treks she told me things like:

"When life hands you lemons, make lemonade."

"I always felt like God was right there with me, with his hand on my shoulder, not some pie in the sky."

"Whatever God or Mother Nature had to throw at me, I ran to meet it head on. Sometimes I said, 'God, well what do you want me to do that for?'"

"I didn't want to hit the rocking chair just because I'm 90. When you get older, you can either put yourself on the shelf or do something about it."

One last anecdote from last month. Before I said goodbye to drive back to Matt & Christine's, I told her:

"Great-grandma, spending time with you, seeing your artwork, learning how you have embraced change in your life, and seeing the example you set by volunteering with children in your 90's has made me believe that I can accomplish and good and noble purpose."

Then, even though the stroke had affected her ability to speak clearly, she leaned forward off her pillow and said with as much force and clarity as possible a message to each and everyone of us:

"You can!"

I close with one last direct quote from her:

"I don't eat, I dine." She spoke this when encouraging people to relax and take time to enjoy each other's company and conversation during meals.

Should I live 96 years myself these is nothing more wise I could ever imagine to say.

Thank you, Carola Laurel, you are an eternal inspiration who lives now in all of us and will be passed on forever.

Please visit Carola's web site at to see her paintings on the web and in 3D and to learn more about the Carola L. Gough Foundation, under whose name we will publish the book asked us to finish for her. Please help in any way you are fit and able to.

Also visit to learn much more about the entire family and see thousands of photographs.

Thank you

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