My friend Mike died last month. He was sixty-five.

We reconnected about two years ago through a chance meeting at Mineta San Jose International airport. We started catching up at the Santa Cruz Wine Bar in Terminal B (Mike loved red blends) and continued the conversation on our flight back to Orange County. We talked nonstop, making it feel like one of the shortest one-hour flights I’ve ever experienced.

At this point you’re probably wondering, what does this post have to do with business storytelling? Truthfully? Nothing..and everything…because after attending my third funeral in as many months, I’m feeling a bit introspective and have come to a conclusion:

The true value of one’s life is measured by the stories that people remember after you’re gone.

And so, rather than talking about business storytelling this week, I want to share my favorite Mike story with you.

* * *

First, you need to know that Mike was a very large human being–something like 6’ 9” and pushing to 300 lbs.

One day, Mike found himself jammed into a commercial airline seat on a long flight. He needed to stretch, so he walked to the back of the plane.

“I apologize,” he said to the stewardess with his Arkansas accent. “I know I’m not supposed to be standing here, but that tiny seat is killing my knees and I just need to stretch for a while.”

The stewardess smiled. “You can stand here for as long as you need,” she said.

A few minutes later, Mike noticed an elderly couple that kept looking back at him. That’s when the woman got up and approached. “My husband and I feel so safe with you here,” she said. “Thank you for your service.” As she returned to her seat, the old man flashed Mike a thumbs-up sign.

Mike flagged down the stewardess to get her advice on the strange interaction. “I’m not sure, but I think that couple over there thinks I’m an Air Marshall or something. Should we tell them?”

“No,” she said, gesturing toward a man seated mid-cabin. “You see that guy up there?”

Mike locked eyes with a timid-looking, shell-of-a-man. “Yeah?”

“He’s been nothing but trouble. But, I just pointed at you and said, ‘Now, do I need to have him come over here?’”

* * *

 

I’ll miss Mike’s wisdom, big heart, and massive hugs. But most of all, I’ll miss his stories: the adventures of running a Medical Devices company, how he sold bags filled with rattlesnakes to make pocket money as a kid, and the tale of an epic basketball battle between him and his Olympian/NBA center brother.

Our lives are measured by the stories we leave behind. What stories will people tell about you?

 

Photo Credit: Highsmith, Carol M, photographer. Headstones at Arlington National Cemetery, Arlington, Virginia. Arlington United States Virginia, None. [Between 1980 and 2006] Photograph. https://www.loc.gov/item/2011635737/.

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