Do you find it hard to get things done? Feel like you’re just spinning your wheels and not making progress in life? Too many problems and not enough solutions? In today’s distinctly different and more personal article, I’ll share with you one of my most effective and treasured sources of inspiration, motivation and gratitude…
Let’s face it, life can be tough. Reading and thinking about my Self-Improvement ideas on this blog is easy enough, but if you’ve been putting them into practice (I hope you have) you will know that doing can be a lot harder than thinking. When it comes to making genuine, meaningful improvements to our lives, everyone (including me) is plagued to some degree by self-doubt, limiting beliefs and a lack of get-goingness.
But…I have a secret…and I’m going to share it with you.
Let me tell you about Matthew’s Bench…
If you’ve read my post about forming good habits you will know that as part of my Self-Improvement I have a Morning Ritual that includes taking our dog for a walk. I take the same route each day, and stop by the local Booths supermarket where I pick up a free cup of coffee (a perk of having a Booths loyalty card.)
If the weather is dry I head across the road to the public gardens where I enjoy my coffee and watch the world waking up for a while. It’s usually around 7.10am so there are a few cars taking people to work and the occasional bus with a few early starters on-board.
In the gardens there is a single tree; some sort of willow, I think. Around the tree is a path and on all four sides there are benches facing the tree and overlooking the gardens and road.
One of the four benches is different.
It looks very similar until you get up close: then you see it…
Did you see? A small engraved metal plate set into the backrest. It reads:
MATTHEW ROY BELL
4.12.93 – 24.10.97
ALWAYS LOVED AND MISSED TO INFINITY AND BEYOND
You can see from the dates that this little chap didn’t even make it to his fourth birthday.
Who is he?
I never knew Matthew. As far as I know I’ve never met his parents or any of his family. I don’t know how or why he died. The only things I know about him are from the bench: his name, his birthday and his date of death. The words “to infinity and beyond” might indicate that he was a fan of Disney’s “Toy Story”?
I call it Matthew’s Bench. My dog and I don’t stop at the other benches. We go to Matthew’s Bench. Why? Because that’s the important one…
What’s in a name?
Sickness and old-age claim thousands of lives every day. Thousands more die as a result of war, famine, flood and any number of other disasters. Our news screens are full of them and sadly, we become partially numb to their loss. Let’s face it, no-one can grieve that many people every day.
But to me, Matthew is different. Why? Because I know his name. When someone has a name, it gets personal.
Because I know his name, I imagine what he looked like.
Because I know his name, I imagine him playing and laughing.
Because I know his name, he matters.
Whoever put the plaque on the bench (I imagine it was his parents or family) loved him enough to want to remember him and tell other people about him. As far as I can tell, there’s no record of Matthew online (until now), probably because he died before the internet was really popular. But in the one-in-a-million chance that Matthew’s family ever visit this page, I want to thank them. Here’s why:
The Matthew Effect
As I have been visiting Matthew’s Bench day by day, certain facts have become clear to me:
- Four years is not enough time on this earth. To date, I have been allowed over fifty-one years. I am truly, truly blessed. Time is so precious.
- Like most of us, I have experienced pain and grief in my life, including the death of one of my sisters when I was seven and my father when I was fifteen. I have felt the humiliation and uncertainty of being forced to abandon a secure, well-paid profession because of severe clinical depression. But nothing I have yet endured can be compared to the unimaginable agony of a parent losing a three year old child. Hard life? I’ve had it easy.
- Like every three year old, Matthew had enormous potential. Who knows what he might have become? What achievements would have been his, great and small, had he been allowed to live? I think I have achieved some of my potential, but there is so much more to be done. I cannot, must not, will not waste my Self-Improvement opportunities.
- Matthew had people who loved him, and I’m sure he loved them, too. His memorial bench speaks to me of relationship. Like Matthew, I love and I am loved. Sitting there on his bench makes me want to hold my loved ones even tighter.
- Matthew saw the world through a child’s eyes. Children often see things so differently: looking with wonderment, excitement, curiosity and expectation, not blinkered by disappointment, betrayal or cynicism and taking almost nothing for granted. This reminds me that sometimes I need to look at the world like that, too.
I can’t sit on Matthew’s Bench without considering at least one of these truths. Thinking of Matthew makes me sad but he is also a source of enormous reassurance, motivation, inspiration and gratitude. Of course I don’t need to visit Matthew’s bench to get these gifts from him. But I do anyway, because I want to and it just feels right.
Do you have a Matthew?
In my life I’ve no doubt sat down on many memorial benches, often without even realising it. I’m not particularly in the habit of reading memorial plates and I’m not particularly suggesting you should, either. But if you do, you might find your own Matthew. Or you might not. Either way, once in a while, even if your challenges seem to outweigh your opportunities, try to celebrate the life you have been given and remember to treasure the time you have on this earth.
Why should children die? I have no answer; not for you, for Matthew’s family or for anyone else. But I know this: I am alive, and I’m going to make it count. I thank God for Matthew, for life and for time to live it.
Matthew, maybe one day we’ll meet. And if we do, I’ll be saying what I’m saying now:
“Thank you, mate. To infinity and beyond.”
The Self-Improvement Guy