Ron's Blog

Enjoy Ron Culberson's insights on a variety of topics

A Flaw In The System 35

A Flaw In The System

The Big Chill was released the same year I graduated from college. While $53 million at the box office may seem low according to today’s standards, the movie was a huge hit because of the talented cast and the fantastic 1960’s soundtrack.

The plot focuses on a group of Baby Boomers who get together 15 years after college to attend the funeral of one of their classmates. The characters spend their time rekindling relationships, confronting personal truths, and trying to manage the issues they still have with one another. The movie is fictional but reflects the realities of life.

Last Saturday, I had a Big Chill experience. I was standing in the foyer of a Lutheran church in Richmond, Virginia surrounded by a group of guys who were teammates in my pick-up basketball games and drinking buddies in our Thursday night quarters competitions while we were students at the University of Virginia. We were in the Lutheran church attending the funeral of our friend and roommate Todd Phillips. Todd was tragically killed in a car accident the previous week.

As in The Big Chill, we reestablished our relationships, talked about the good old days, and remembered Todd. In particular, we remembered how he loved basketball. Had we not been in suits, I’m sure a basketball game would have broken out. But, since we are all now in our mid fifties, the suit excuse prevented injury from a likely case of old-men-trying-to-be-young-men syndrome.

As we reconnected, asked each other about career paths, and reminded ourselves of the most embarrassing thing that each of us had done in college, the conversation eventually came back to Todd. And the one comment that came up most about Todd was, “I never knew he had such an impact on so many people.”

Here’s the odd thing about funerals. We often learn more about the deceased than we knew when they were alive. The problem is, it’s too late. Why don’t we know more about each other before that? And why do we often feel regret because we never told someone how we felt about him or her?

It’s a flaw in the system.

You see, I saw Todd several times a year at UVA basketball games. I knew that he taught an AP class in high school. I knew that he kept in touch with his students after they graduated. I figured he was pretty good at what he did. I did not know, however, that he had developed a state-of-the-art center for medical sciences at his school. I did not know that he had a huge impact on almost every student he touched. But after attending three different memorial services, I discovered that he was both an extraordinary teacher, a supportive father and spouse, and an amazing human being. I wish I’d known that before he died.

The reason I didn’t know more about Todd is that I had planned to get that information at a later time. Yep. I expected to grow old with Todd and then once we retired, we (Todd, our wives, and I) would hang out at UVA sporting events, go to dinner, and talk about our lives in more detail. I figured we had many years to get to know each other better.

It’s a flaw in the system. We always think we have more time.

A few years ago, five different friends of mine died over a short period of time. They were all members of my church, and suffered from a variety of different illnesses. Whenever each person’s name would show up on the prayer list, I’d say, “I need to go see him” or “I really should call her.”

But I didn’t.

And they all died before I talked to them, even though my intentions were good.

It’s a flaw in the system.

Good intentions don’t really work after someone dies. And even though it is said that “it’s the thought that counts,” if a person never knew what you thought about them, then the thought really didn’t count. As the great philosopher, Yoda, once said, “Do or do not. There is no try.”

There has been a flaw in my system for years. So I did something about it.

Last year, I embarked on a special project. I made a list of my closest friends and colleagues and committed to write each of them a note to let them know how I felt about them. That way, if they died, or we lost touch, the thought would count. I know it sounds morbid but it was my way of connecting with people while they are still on the planet.

I printed about 100 cards with a picture of a piece of toast on the front. Inside it had the following:


“A Toast To You!” 

The older I get, the more I discover that I have not taken time to tell people how much they mean to me. So, that’s the purpose of this card. Consider yourself told!


I then wrote a personal note to each person. It was a nice way to connect. But I was not prepared for the responses I got. One man said it was the nicest note he had ever received. One woman said it made her cry. One friend called to make sure I didn’t have a terminal illness because he figured the only explanation for a card like this was that I was really sick. Now that was funny.

I’m grateful that I had sent one of these cards to Todd last year, before he died. Sometimes, we get a chance to fix a flaw in our system.

As I stood in the foyer of the Lutheran church on Saturday, I grieved the loss of my friend. I also grieved the many years that had passed since I played basketball and drank beer with the other guys at the funeral. And I grieved that we had not maintained our relationships.

The lack of connecting is definitely a flaw in our system. But, with a little bit of effort, we can address the flaw. And if we do, we can really make a difference in our own life and in the lives of others—before it’s too late.


  • Kirby Stiening says:

    I always enjoy the blog posts, but this one was particularly beautiful. At age 68 high school and college reunions have become simultaneously joyous and somber. Thank you for writing this.

  • Adell Marlin says:

    Thanks Ron, this is such a great reminder of how short life can be when you keep putting things off until tomorrow. You may miss your turn to say or do what you meant to do. We must stop procrastinating.

  • Mary Cloud says:

    Thank you Mr. Culberson for the reminder that time is not something we have plenty of. I have many associates in my life but I only have 2 true friends. When I get a minute to call them I often can not reach them due to their busy lives and so I usually call their mother’s and talk to them. By the time a get a chance to call them again so much time has lapsed. I realize they could put a little more effort to communicate with me but what I also realize is that I can not concern myself with what they can and/or can not do. I can only make sure that I do what is within my heart to do. Again, thank you and many blessings.


  • carla says:

    This one really hit home. Three days ago, my friend found out that little cyst he had removed was a lymph node full of cancer cells of unknown origin. One hour ago, I found out a close friend of my husband has brain cancer. I might have to get some “toast” cards myself.

  • Diana says:

    Thanks for sharing. You are always such an inspiration and cause me to stop and do a self examination! Today is the day I begin to correct the flaws in my life.

  • Katelyn says:

    Thank you for this, Ron. My Grandfather just passed away and this was a timely reminder and a lovely read. I’m sorry for the loss of your friend.

  • S. Averett says:

    I think this a great idea because I just recently had the same experience. I would constantly say, I needed to visit a friend who was sick. I fail to visit before she passed and really felt terrible. I fail to connect and definitely had a flaw in the system

  • Ron, This is your best post ever. Thank you for reflecting on the life of Todd and so much more. Marg Modlin

  • Debbie Pitsnogle says:

    Thanks, Mr. Culberson, for this writing. It makes you stop and think about your friends and relationships. After reading this, I made a list of people I wanted to contact and to just say “Hi” and let them know I was thinking of them. I hope I get the same responses you did. I know it makes others feel good and I hope to continue this practice.
    Debbie from Hagerstown, MD

  • Rachael says:

    Wow this is another affirmation of a change I am making. To make a human connection to those I love and appreciate. I have fallen victim to a text message or Facebook tag is the same thing and it is not. Thank you for reminding me to toast all the wonderful people in my life.

  • Jan says:

    Thank you so much for this post! It is a beautifully written reminder of the joy that a personal connection can make to people that have impacted our lives. I always enjoy your posts, but this one especially resonates with me.

  • Ryan Miller says:

    Thanks for sharing, Ron. This reminded me of the poems “Bring Me Flowers” or “Don’t Bring Me Flowers” often used at funerals. There are a couple of versions including one by Randy L McClave and one by Juan Olivarez. Essentially they both remind us that it doesn’t do a person much good to share all the wonderful things about them after they die. Take time to share those things with them today. Let’s all share some toast!

  • Tom Finley says:

    Thank you Ron. Very powerful and true. Hope you’re well. Miss seeing you around. To plagiarize an old friend, I’d like to send you a nice thought:
    The older I get, the more I discover that I have not taken time to tell people how much they mean to me. So, that’s the purpose of this note. Consider yourself told!
    Coincidentally, received an email blog from fellow Virginian Mike R. stating to “Book It” concerning anything I wanted to do. I’m booking my appointment to send notes to my friends. Best wishes.
    Tom F

  • Steve says:

    Another excellent piece of work and of leadership by example.

    Btw, my “toast” must be lost in the mail, wink, wink.????

  • Hamelmal Shiferaw says:

    Sorry about your friend Todd. Thank you so much for this post which is touching and a great lesson to all of us.

  • Jayne says:

    This relates to my thought that we should all have porches on our homes to entice others to come and sit to talk. Those days seem to be long gone but are so needed these days. Talking with one another helps to connect and know peoples needs to better be able to help one another. As the Bible says to love thy neighbor as thy self. More love and less hate is so needed today.

  • Dave Daly says:

    How come I didn’t get a note…so now you have to come up to Central New York (bring Wendy) and enjoy some lake time in the sun or mountain time in the winter!

    Very nice post anyhoo….

Add comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.