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How to Live Well, While You Can 🌹
Things my uncle taught me
My great uncle Eric died a few weeks ago, somewhat unexpectedly, after receiving an examination in which he was determined to be “recovering well” and “safe to return home” at the conclusion of over a month of intensive care and rehab.
Even after all my stoic training and all my ponderings on death, his passing still managed to catch me by surprise.
I knew he was fighting for his life. I visited him in the hospital. I gave him a copy of Meditations.
But I still feel like I should have called more, visited more, and listened more to the things he had to share — not only in his last few months, but in all the time I’ve known him.
Instead, I was always thinking “I’m busy; he’s busy; I’ll call later.”
As a result, I didn’t get a chance to thank him properly for everything he did for me, and I didn’t get a chance to say goodbye.
Death doesn’t wait for an invitation, and it never delays its plans. It comes when it wants, often without announcement, and sweeps us away whether we’re ready or not.
Eric’s funeral happened this past Monday. To commemorate his life, and the lessons he shared, I gave an address about some of the ways that Eric used his life well.
Below is an adaptation of that address.
Life Isn’t Short
Roughly 2000 years ago, a stoic philosopher named Seneca wrote a letter to his father-in-law titled “On the Shortness of Life.” In this letter, Seneca challenged the idea that life is too short, instead proposing that life is long if we live wisely.
Early in the letter, he wrote: “It is not that we have a short time to live, but that we waste a lot of it. . . . Life is long if you know how to use it.”
In the body of the letter, he expands on that idea by exploring many ways in which people waste their lives, and what they can do instead in order to maximize their joy, fulfillment, and achievements.
My uncle Eric is one of those rare people who, I believe, used his life well.
Here are three ideas Seneca advanced about living well which I think my uncle demonstrated in his life:
Don’t get caught up in stuff and appearances.
Recognize that happiness comes from within.
You get what you give.
Don’t Get Caught Up In Stuff And Appearances
Many people outsource their happiness and sense of self-worth to the objects they own and the things people say about them. As a result, they spend the majority of their lives doing things they hate to pay for things they don’t need to impress people they don’t even like.
Eric, however, was easy to please and had nothing to prove.
He wore his clothes until they simply couldn't be worn anymore, and he was frequently “underdressed” at social events despite being one of the most successful people in the room everywhere he went.
He did much of his own “dirty work” — landscaping, plumbing, maintenance — despite having more than enough wealth to outsource the tasks to other people.
He lived happily in South Florida without air conditioning, and, instead of buying fancy cars, he drove a beat-up truck that was older than I am for decades — not because he couldn’t afford it, but because he was happy with what he had.
Eric spent his life doing the things he wanted with the people he loved, whenever he wanted to do them. He didn’t play stupid mind games or participate in petty social competitions; he just worked hard and pursued his passions, and he didn’t care what people said to him or about him.
The result was a life with little drama, but much joy.
Recognize That Happiness Comes From Within
Eric kept a smile in his pocket; he had it with him everywhere he went. No matter what his circumstances were, he could always make a joke and have a good time.
I watched him many times under pressure:
Managing large projects
Hearing bad news
Getting cut off in traffic
Dealing with billing issues at dinners, airports, cruise ship service counters, etc.
Encountering unexpected delays in travel plans, construction projects, and more
Nothing managed to steal his smile. He always stayed calm, and within minutes, he’d be cracking a joke. He laughed at himself often, and he always found simple ways to have fun, like by posing with rainbows in the distance or by telling old stories.
He never needed to be entertained, because he constantly radiated joy. Being alive and doing cool stuff was more than enough to make him happy, and that happiness was always contagious. His presence was a comfort any time he was in the room, even if he was just reading a newspaper in the corner.
Many people tell themselves: “I would be happy, if only . . .”
Meanwhile, Eric’s motto was, “I will be happy, no matter what.”
Anytime troubles came his way — even illness and death — Eric kept smiling.
His joy was undefeatable.
You Get What You Give
In a world where many people struggle to achieve success and dominance by any means necessary — including by violence and cruelty — Eric was generous, patient, and kind towards others; especially friends and family.
I never saw him bully, belittle, or abuse another person. He didn’t look down on people who were less fortunate than he, nor did he despise people who made poor choices. He gave second chances freely and treated people with dignity, no matter their life status.
This stands out in stark contrast against many modern images of success, where we see angry, aggressive people leveraging media to stir people into frenzies and turn friends into enemies with divisive ideologies.
Some people sow chaos and then enter the fray to collect whatever shakes out in the confusion, but Eric wasn’t like that. He was a student of “slow success.”
All his life, Eric worked hard to position himself well, pursuing the path where his passions aligned with his potential. He then lived modestly so that he could funnel the fruits of every small success into larger opportunities — usually in the form of investing.
He also went to great lengths to make sure that his family and friends could enjoy a piece of his prosperity. He gave generously to people in need, and he always made sure that there was a way for everyone to get together, even if some couldn’t afford to tag along on their own.
Eric made himself available to people by sharing his time, knowledge, and talents with anyone who asked. He freely gave second chances to the people he loved — even if they went astray for years — and his gifts never came with a price. When he gave, he gave; it was that simple.
The result of a lifetime of patience, kindness, and generosity was an abundance of happiness and success. He had few enemies and many friends. He was greatly successful, but didn’t inspire jealousy in others.
Most importantly, he derived great satisfaction not simply from having, but from giving, and the more he gave the more he received, not only in the form of new opportunities, but also in the form of endless joy.
Eric’s memory is a reminder that the “good life” is not necessarily made up of status, riches, and conquests, but of hard work, good friends, and a smile.
A Final, Personal Note
Young men need old men whom they can learn from, and over the last decade, Eric had stepped up into the role of Patriarch for our family. He was one of the only “wise old men” I’ve ever been able to look up to — who made himself readily accessible — since I left my childhood behind and became a man.
Since receiving the news of his death, I’ve felt like a ship without a captain. He was the leader — the one who determined the pace, called the shots, and set an example for me to emulate.
Now I’ll never hear him share his wisdom or tell his stories again.
However, as much as I will miss him, I am tremendously grateful that I was able to get to know him. Unlike other successful men, he was approachable and available, as well as kind and nonjudgmental.
His memory will continue to inspire me for the rest of my life.
I only hope I can give to others some of what he gave to me.
Eric Drinkhouse — Obituary
Below is the obituary of Eric Drinkhouse, originally posted here.
Eric William Drinkhouse, 80, of Boca Raton and Merritt Island, FL., passed away on June 8, 2023.
Eric was born on September 10, 1942, to Agnethe (“Nita”) Andersen and Earl William Drinkhouse. Eric spent several formative years of his youth in Denmark and remained fluent in Danish throughout his life. After graduating from Coral Gables High School in 1960, Eric obtained degrees in Electrical Engineering and Computer Software Engineering from Florida Atlantic University.
Working at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center (KSC) in the 1960’s, Eric was one of the original IBM programmers who helped to design and develop the computer system for JFK’s Apollo program. Eric was part of the IBM crew that sent the Saturn V rocket to the moon. He left the space race when he received his draft notice from the U.S. Army.
Eric served in Vietnam for a tour of duty with the U.S. Army 29th Field Artillery Unit. Specifically, “I Battery, 29th Air Defense Artillery” from 1967 to 1969. He remained an active member of the National Dusters, Quads & Searchlight Association (NDQSA) until his death.
Following the war, Eric worked for IBM for 32 years, initially as a computer hardware systems engineer, and later, as a computer software engineer and manager. He was proud to have been part of the team that developed and produced IBM’s first Personal Computer (IBM 5150), and to have never taken one sick day in 32 years!
Throughout his life, Eric traveled extensively, from the Arctic to the Antarctic, and everywhere in between, including Svalbard/Spitsbergen (Artic Circle), Galapagos, Alaska, Antarctica, Iditarod, Hawaii, the 48 continental US states, Route 66, Greece, Norway, South Pacific, the Caribbean countries, the Mediterranean countries, most European countries, Ireland, Australia, Morocco, China, Cape Horn, Dubai, Cuba, Amazon River and many more places.
Eric was passionate about travel, culture, performing arts, animals, the environment, and all manner of space exploration. He was looking forward to final retirement in Merritt Island, FL right next to KSC. He will always be adored by his family.
Eric is survived by Cindy Drinkhouse (wife), Jeffrey Douglas Abbey (step-son), Laura Suzanne Bater (stepdaughter), Zachary Bater (grandson), Jane Elizabeth Drinkhouse-DeMars (sister), William Edward Fritz (nephew), Christopher Joseph Fritz (great nephew), Charles Justin Fritz (nephew), Holly Diane Gehm (great niece), Kathryn Ann Drinkhouse (sister), Anna Lisa Drinkhouse-Johnson (sister), Katherine Elizabeth Johnson (niece), additional cousins, great nieces and nephews, and countless friends.
Some of his ashes will be buried with his beloved dogs, according to his wishes.
Vaya con Dios, Eric.
And as for the rest of us:
Memento Mori. 💀
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