Legacy: what will I leave behind?

What will I leave behind when I'm gone? What will be my legacy?

I'm not sure what is a "normal" amount to think about such things, but I do think about them.

Perhaps losing my father at a young age and then attending his funeral initiated some premature awareness that people could die and that there might be some variability in how they are thought of and remembered. As I came to terms with the existence of my own mortality, I more than occasionally wondered what might be said of me at my funeral, and how I would be known from that point on.

Of course it's an incredible privilege to even think about legacy, and dwelling too long on it can bring out the worst impulses of ego and self-importance. To have had incredible opportunities and access to resources over the course of my life and then still try to control how the world works even after I die...well, that would be crazy.

So I try to use any "legacy thinking" as a way to keep me focused, especially on the important things I want to do in life and the kinds of relationships I want to have, instead of as a vehicle for self-inflation or unnatural self-preservation. I also use it to keep perspective:

Big Picture

On a geologic time scale, I won't really have any personal legacy. I will be one of many billions of people who lived in a time when humans inflicted substantial, mostly harmful changes across the planet, killing off many other forms of life while altering the climate, poisoning the water, bringing up oil and putting down trash and toxic chemicals, and just generally making a mess of things while we wait for the sun to implode and swallow the Earth.

Hopefully I also live in a time where a shift in human attitudes about the planet we occupy eventually leads to some reversal of those trends, and maybe our descendants will despise us slightly less than they could have otherwise. But as much as I want to believe that I personally can make a difference in reducing this harm, I don't currently hold out hope that my lifestyle choices will be worth much when measured across the millennia.

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Tired of Cancer

My friend Carol Hunter died this past Sunday morning at the age of 68, of cancer.

I wrote to her recently about how much her teaching and life have meant to me:

I think the third term of Humanities during my first year at Earlham was the most time we ever spent together, gathering in the Meetinghouse Library four days a week to talk about the works of Willa Cather, Anzia Yezierska, Amílcar Cabral, Basil Davidson, Ayi Kwei Armah and others. I remember the gentle but persistent way you encouraged us to think, to organize our thoughts, and to share them in mature and helpful ways. I remember your way of talking of really hard things about the nature of the world - historical and modern alike - with a tone that was serious but encouraging. And I remember your overall kindness as a professor...I want to thank you for the life that you have lived, the challenges to heart and mind that you laid down for your students, and the ways you have shaped the rest of us through your time in this community and the way you have been as a family. I am grateful to you and for you.

My friend Roland Kreager died on May 28 of this year at the age of 65, of cancer. His obituary only begins to paint a picture of what a kind, active, generous, loving soul he was. He worked hard to create a world that was more just and equitable. Roland surprised me often with his ability to find good and hope within complex situations, even horrible ones. Even within his experience of cancer.

I can only hope to have a small piece of both Carol's and Roland's tremendous perspective on life as I grieve their deaths and feel anger and sadness at how quickly and profoundly a world can be turned upside down by illness.

Unfortunately this particular kind of anger and sadness is not new to me, or to many other people.

And it feels like cancer is everywhere.

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Remembering Bob Rosa

I heard the sad news this morning that Bob Rosa, retired local businessman and community builder, has died in a car wreck, and that his wife is hurt and at the hospital.

I didn't know Bob very well personally, but had the honor to serve with him on a local board, and had the chance to see his passion for making this community a better place at work. My understanding is that Bob gave openly of his time, money and spirit to the causes he believed in, impressively modeling an engagement with Richmond's core needs.

I hope that our community can honor his legacy well, and support his wife Jane in her grieving and healing.

Study Hall with Craig

Cut ApartLately I've been recalling one particular day early in high school. My "study hall friend" Craig and I were giddy with excitement because he had just bought a copy of the Star Trek: The Next Generation Technical Manual, a book that was basically the detailed explanation of how all of the tools and technologies in the Star Trek universe actually work. He kept it at his side in the plastic bag from the bookstore, only bringing it out for glances here and there as we tried to avoid the watchful eye of the study hall monitor.

But really, he didn't want smudges on the cover and he didn't want to break the spine, and that was great with me because I would have demanded the same. I might not have even brought the book to school - who knows what could happen to it!? We whispered about holodecks and warp drives, and let our minds wonder. Though we didn't use the word at the time, we were totally geeked out, in awe of this seeming bridge between science fiction and real life. Craig and I only saw each other for this brief period a few times per week, and we'd only seen each other outside of school once or twice, but we had a connection that only comes with being a bit (or, okay, a lot) uncool together.

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August Milestones

It was 10 years ago this month that I co-founded Summersault website development with Mark. We're celebrating with some donations to help improve the community, and a look back at our milestones over the years.

It was 20 years ago this month that my father passed away from cancer. I celebrate his life, the family he left behind, the impact he had on me, and the cycles of life that give the world meaning and possibility.

It was 30 years ago this month that I was born into the world. I celebrate the landbase that sustains me, my health, my successes and failures, my friends and loved ones, my past and future, the hope that drives me, and so much more.

And so here I am, in August of 2007. As E.B. White said, "I get up every morning determined both to change the world and to have one hell of a good time. Sometimes this makes planning the day difficult."

Goodbye, Misty the Cat

011 7AOn Saturday, February 24th, my cat Misty died after the cancer she had been struggling with had become too much for her to handle. It was a loving and peaceful death, and she was buried near one of her favorite spots in the yard.

Misty had a long life - upwards of 16 years - and was a wonderful companion throughout. I never thought of myself as a "cat person," but I inherited her from other family members and she grew on me. She didn't always have the warmest disposition when you encountered her at first - in recent years I think she had forgotten what her "nice meow" sounded like, so every entreaty or remark, even the happy ones, were done in the tone of a kitty with better places to be. But she made friends with strangers quickly, wasn't afraid to look a little silly in the name of effective and comprehensive play-time, and always knew when it was time to cuddle up. And bless her heart for tolerating my experimentation with various gadgets that were meant to make her more comfortable - the automatic litterbox cleaner, the battery-powered timer-based feeding contraption, the elaborate windowsill lounging surface structures. I think she sensed my good intentions all along, even if she didn't share my enthusiasm. 🙂

If you want, you can make a donation to 1-800-Save-A-Pet.com in honor of Misty - they help homeless pets all over North America to get adopted into loving homes like the one she had.

Goodbye, Misty.

It makes me want to kill myself

IMG_1161.JPGEvery now and then (and several times recently), I'll hear someone use That Phrase, and it tends to be jolting. They have a troubling experience, and when they are recounting it, they say "it made me want to kill myself." Variations often include "it made me want to slit my throat" or "I wanted to blow my brains out" or, less violently, "Oh my gosh, I just wanted to die."

I know that the people who say these things usually intend them to mean "I was so embarrassed/disturbed/upset/whatever by that experience that it numbed my senses and temporarily made me unable to function." And I suppose that in an age where finding just the right expression to boldly and cleverly convey our complex emotions (perhaps without really revealing what they are) is all-important to being cool, using the very raw and attention-getting experiences of suicide, death and dismemberment as material is an appealing way to go. When someone says that something was merely "horrible" or "shocking," it's easy to tune them out since there are so many horrible and shocking things shown to us every day. But when they effectively say "it made me want to end my life," we're not yet so desensitized that we don't sit up and pay attention, at least for a little bit.
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