Unfinished Business

Posted on May 17, 2016


I grew up watching The Twilight Zone.  Though most of the five seasons of the show were made during my lifetime, I mostly caught it in syndication.  In as much as the local independent stations aired multiple episodes daily, I probably managed to see them all multiple times.

The second episode ever aired was titled “One For the Angels”[1] and featured Ed Wynn as Lou Bookman, a pitchman (i.e. a salesman who pitched his wares to passersby from a box on the sidewalk).  When Death shows up to claim him, Lou claims that he needs more time as he had always hoped to accomplish something great.  Lou says he always wanted to make “a pitch for the angels.”  Spoiler alert.[2]  Death grants Lou the extension but says he was forced to choose an alternate (i.e. the little girl who lives in Lou’s apartment building).  To save the little girl, Lou has to use his salesmanship to keep Death in rapt attention such that he misses his appointment to take the girl.  Lou, having achieved his ambition, is now ready to accompany Death.

Death: She’s all right.  One minute past and you made me miss my appointment.

Lou: Thank God.

Death: A most persuasive pitch, Mr. Bookman.  An excellent pitch, very effective.

Lou: It’s the best I’ve ever done.  It’s the kind of a pitch I’ve always wanted to make.  A big one.  A pitch so big that the sky would open up.  A pitch for the angels. [soft melancholy music] Well, I guess it’s time for me now.

Death: As per our agreement.

Lou: Well, I’m ready.

Death: After you, Mr. Bookman.

Lou: Oh, excuse me.  I forgot something.  I’ll be back in a minute.  [picks up his box]  You never know who might need something up there. Up there?

Death: Up there, Mr. Bookman.  You made it.

Narrator: Louis J. Bookman, age: sixtyish, occupation: pitchman.  Formerly, a fixture of the summer.  Formerly, a rather minor component of a hot July.  But through his life, a man beloved by the children, and therefore, a most important man.


None of us knows how long we have.  This begs the question for us to consider our unfinished business.  For most of us, this is probably not about some great life achievement, but rather about relationships.  There is little that any of us individually might accomplish that could not be accomplished by another.  The place where it has to be you is in your relationships.

In Dr. Ira Byock’s The Four Things That Matter Most (which incidentally, I have never read), he asserts that those four things are “Please forgive me,” “I forgive you,” “Thank you,” and “I love you.”  I would assert that leaving any of these unspoken in your closest relationships is to have unfinished business.

Human beings are not capable of sustaining relationships without being able to asks for and grant forgiveness.  The closer the relationship, the more essential this is.  If you grew up in a family where either 1) to apologize was considered a weakness, or 2) where apologies were forced out of you whether genuine or not, apologizing may be very difficult for you.  It is a necessary relationship skill.  I have many couples come to therapy where both partners assert that the other has never apologized.  If you are married, you owe your mate an apology.  It is just how it is.  You cannot be in that close a relationship without having done some things that warrant repentance.

“Thank you” and “I love you.”  Gratitude begets gratitude.  This is important both for your own well-being and for the other person to feel appreciated.  A practice of gratitude can bring a good measure of peace.  People need to feel valued and appreciated.  Love begets love.  Our hearts leak and need to be continually refilled.  I had a former coworker who made a point of telling family members “I love you” at the end of every phone call.  Her assertion was that “You never know what could happen.  If that is the last time I spoke with that person, I want that to be the last thing I say to them.”  Sounds good to me.

[1] That piece of trivia and about $3 will get you a cup of coffee at Starbucks.

[2] If you haven’t seen a 56 year old TV episode, how much can I really be spoiling it for you.