I have always been fascinated with the obituary section of the paper. Not for the morbid details (although I admit I do look for the cause of death, but most are too genteel to include it – probably to stop guys like me trolling the obits). Nonetheless, I am intrigued by the lives that these now deceased led. Most of the people listed are of an advanced age, or have been in advanced stages of life threatening illnesses. There is an expectation that life will end sooner than later for these folks. But of course there are the tragic listings – children, young men and women in the military, victims of horrible acts, etc. But there is always a story.
That is what I like to read – the short, condensed life bullets – the Coles Notes of mortality in Times New Roman 12 point type. The lines and spaces between the words that convey emotion behind the script. Who wrote the obituary? What frame of mind were they in? How long did it take to write it?
Silly questions of course, but to me add to the story.
Now, I have read the obits of alcoholics as well – those who passed on through illness, suicide or neglect. Oh, it may not say that on the page, but it is often felt through the feel of the paper itself at times. There is a sense that while the death certificate doesn’t state “alcoholism” as cause of death per se, it’s alcoholism that has driven that passing on. Of course, I will never know the whole story to many of these, but I always get the sense of pain through these quickly-typed recaps of tragedy. One can almost smell the fresh dirt, whisky and sour decay coming up from the newsprint.
Which brings me to a simple question:
What will my legacy be?
I am not sure, to be honest. What will it be, or what do I want it to be? They can be the same thing, or diametrically opposed. I opt for the former, as I am on a spiritual journey, and am not interested in having a life that is buried before I am.
There is a famous quote that goes “Plant a tree, write a book, have a child”. My dad used to tell me that when I was younger. A way to leave your legacy behind, he noted. I understood the actual idea behind it – passing on a name, leaving behind some written work and ensuring a place to hide in the shade when you’re older. But I didn’t really understand the unconscious stamping of our life onto others until I started my recovery. In fact, I am just understanding it now.
I write. I have always written. Short stories, started a novel. Never published, but then again, don’t know how hard I tried (alcoholism isn’t kind to writers, regardless of the romanticizing of it we often see or imagine). Regardless, I write this blog now, and plan to write something concrete…something tactile to hold in your hand. I don’t know what, though. I also have two children. One biological and one through adoption – both born of love through different channels. Plant a tree? Not done yet. Took one down the other day because of redoing the foundation. Perhaps I need to plant two now. But not sure if I will get to the arboreal manifestation of this sentiment in my lifetime. But I can try.
So once again, what is my legacy going to be?
I can list the nuts and bolts, the genealogical basics – father, husband, uncle, brother, son, etc. I can also get into the stream of pastimes and work. I can also edit out the Old Life stuff – liar, cheater, thief, alcoholic, manipulator, antagonist, victim. But what do I want for the other space, the space left for loved ones to fill out?
Here are some questions I need to ask myself:
What am I doing to imprint my life onto the souls of others?
What I am showing to others that can only be exhibited through love and action rather than words?
What compassion for life and the lives of others am I building and demonstrating?
What’s the measure of my life being held up against and with what instrument?
What gifts of the Creator have I been able to share and exhaust out to others?
And realize this is not about what people would say at the funeral or some exercise in post-mortem ego boosting. This is about what what we have passed on, what we were known for, what murmurs have we placed into the spirits of those who carry our message, our hopes, our dreams? What are they actually passing on to others?
I guess these are the things that occur to me when I sit and read the paper, or watch another alcoholic waste away, or when I ride my bicycle past the hospitals down on University Ave. I think about it when I play with my children, or see my parents getting just that much older, or when I catch my own gaze in a reflection. I reflect in that reflection.
In the end I don’t know what my legacy will be. I certainly have hopes and dreams, but I am still watching and waiting as they unveil themselves to me. I definitely want to be know for X, Y and Z, but allow it to play out to a different level. There is always something new on the horizon for me. I just don’t know right now.
How about you?
What is YOUR legacy? What do you want it to be?
Let me know – share it here.
I’m really interested in hearing from you.