Reflective Essay Sample
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There are times in life when we are called on to do something much greater than ourselves, even if for only a few minutes. This rarely comes without humility, personal sacrifice, strength and courage – and always leads to transformation, self-discovery and confidence.
Though I had given presentations throughout my high school and college years, with a Public Speaking course in between, I had never addressed a room of more than, say, 25 people, all students and one teacher or professor. The thought of addressing a room of adults was nearly paralyzing to me, then a 19-year-old college student. What about making mistakes? What about the room packed full of judging, criticizing people? What if I said something so embarrassing, so humiliating, that it would remain with me forever, like a failed plastic surgery? These were the kind of thoughts I often had about addressing a room full of people – that is, until my father died in my sophomore year of college, not long ago, and I had no other choice but to courageously and selflessly give his eulogy.
He had been in the hospital for several months after suffering a debilitating stroke that had left him in a very bad physical and emotional state. Months and months he suffered until the time finally came … and he left this earthly existence forever. It was a snowy day in early March 2009 when it happened, when we had to quickly make arrangements for his funeral.
Speaking with the preacher who would later officiate his ceremony, I was asked if I had anyone in mind who would want to give the eulogy, to say a few words about my father’s life and who he was, what he stood for. It was a foreign notion to me – giving a eulogy – because I had not attended too many funerals, thankfully. I only remembered a few people speaking about the recently deceased at each one I did attend, but I didn’t know it was part of every funeral ceremony. Besides my mother – his ex-wife – I wasn’t sure that anyone would speak at this ceremony about my father’s life. Especially not my 18-year-old brother; he was not mature enough to do this. It wasn’t a job for him. Losing our father had been too heart crushing for him, too burdening, painful, and he resented every bit of it.
So it was up to me to give my father’s eulogy. There was not even a question if it was the right thing to do. It was something I just knew I had to do – even despite my prior nervousness – and debilitating anxiety – about public speaking. I did not matter in this situation. I felt like I had no choice but to honor my father on this day, to speak sweetly and compassionately about his life, his favorite things, his traits and his strengths. I would be giving my father’s eulogy to a sanctuary filled of people – some family, some family friends – and I was only 19 years old.
So the day before the funeral I traveled to my father’s birthplace high in the mountains of Virginia, just southeast of Washington, DC, to what had always seemed like a different world and way of living compared to my sheltered life in the suburbs of Richmond. The morning after spending the night at my uncle’s house – my late father’s younger brother – I remember rising early with the birds, getting dressed for the funeral, then driving to a park where, in the company of nature’s soothing brilliance, I found the inspiration to write the eulogy. There were no apprehensions of speaking in front of all these people – and embarrassment, nervousness and failure were the last things on my mind. I had to man up. I had to do this for my father, because if I didn’t, I wasn’t sure anyone else would. He came from a family of farmers, blue-collar workers and carpenters, and I was certain they had neither the gumption or the speaking skills to talk about his life in a way that honored the man he had become. So it was up to me. Only up to me. It was my responsibility.
Finally, the time had come in the ceremony for the eulogy. It had been a beautiful, elegant and classy service. A hundred or so people were in attendance. It was time for me to approach the podium, where I addressed the room of sad, forsaken faces. There were no thoughts of being nervous, and I certainly never worried about my performance. I seemed to have this unknown, unused strength that, I think, seemed to come from above. I no longer felt like just a young college student. By the time it was over, I had become a man. I ended up giving a beautifully eloquent, respectful eulogy, one that honored my father, made the room loosen up a little and laugh a bit when appropriate – my father would have wanted it that way – and I felt like I had achieved my objective, like I did something sort of heroic.
All in all, through overcoming this seemingly insurmountable experience, I realized that anyone could accomplish anything – and I mean anything – if they only could remove themselves, their sense of self, their emotions and their ego, from whatever they were doing. So often we engage in things for our wellbeing, and we suffer from it. If we find and pursue matters, experiences and objectives that are beyond us, that are much greater than us, only then can we go on to live the life of heroes.
This was an experience that changed me forever. And I am a better man because of it.
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