A Legacy More Valuable Than Money

There are some benefits to being old as the hills. Now, I cannot think many benefits, but I can think of a couple.

First, a benefit of nearing antiquity is that the older you get, the more expansive becomes your Weltanschauung (German for worldview). You are not intimidated by speaking out about things. You can speak your mind without much fear of anything. I think Forrest Gump is correct:

For example, it amazes me about the number of people who did not comprehend or missed entirely Forrest's truth uttered to many people during his life. Forrest said, "Stupid is as stupid does." Many political leaders miss the implication as far as they are concerned personally. I know that they want to be re-elected, and that they will do almost anything to achieve that goal on the next Election Day. However, being as old or older than most of them especially in Washington, they do not pause long enough to consider how they will be remembered. They seem so preoccupied about approval here and now. They do not even consider how they will be remembered after they die.

If you want to read some of my venting about the radical right, which is equally radically wrong, go to "Stupid is as stupid does". How would you like to be remembered in the future as a racist, sexist, or just a plain liar when it comes to almost anything? You will find some of my venting and railing against that stupidity in dozens of articles. However, there are other levels regarding remembering other than Palin, Ryan, Bachmann, Cruz, Boehner, McConnell, and Paul. While these politicians strut their time ineptly upon the stage of life, growing old has another benefit other than dissing no-nothing politicians.

Second, having danced with death, you understand life. I see life differently than those who are my younger friends and relatives. They think that they know about death. In reality, they really do not. Having been oblivious to that reality when I was young, I know where they are coming from. Nevertheless, they do not know about death except at a cursory level. I appreciate my family and especially Jack and Owen, my two grandchildren who toddle around discovering their world especially because of my advanced age.

One of the blessings of old age is that you have gone through two periods of parenting. I can tell you that I tried to be the best parent that I could. However, being a parent when you are in the 20s or 30s is merely a dry run about something that you have never done before. Those are your rookie years of parenting. Nonetheless, when you are a grandparent, you see life and your grandchildren differently...radically differently.

Al, Jack, and Owen baking

While I want to be remembered by my family as someone who loved them a great deal, it is different with grandchildren. I would trade their remembering me if I could guarantee that they could remember insights about life and living that I have tied to convey to them.

This is particularly true of my two young grandchildren, Jack and Owen. I tell anyone even if that person did not ask that I do not understand the feelings that I have for those two. They came into my life via divorce and remarriage of my wife and me. I had three children and was divorced. My wife and her first husband had a child and then adopted a newborn. They raised her and her brother until they were on their own. Then the parents divorced.

Several years later, the daughter married and had Jack and Owen. Therefore, those two toddlers are two trees away from my family tree. However, that genetic distinction does not affect anything. Jack and Owen are loved. I tell their father that he cannot know what it will be like a couple dozen years from now when his kids have children. He cannot possibly know; I did not know when I was first a parent.

Jack sipping from a mug

I have wrestled with the question why since Jack was born 3½ years ago. I loved Jack since that first day in the hospital when he was born. He was breathing in this world only an hour or two when I held him for the first time. In addition, my world turned or rather turned upside down, but I do not know why. Two years later, when Owen arrived, the same thing occurred when I picked him up hardly an hour after his birth.

Part of the explanation is that I have danced with death a couple of times, which makes one see life completely differently. I get that. I know better than I could have known about death when I was 30, 40, or 50. At my age, I know that I am terminal. Yes, I know you think you know that you are terminal, but just wait until you are 70 and have danced with death a couple of times. Then you will know.

Al seated with Jack and Owen

I know that I am not immortal. At one level, I knew that when I was in first grade. By that time, members of my family had died. Nevertheless, that realization to me was at a very superficial level. Even my parent's early deaths, my mother in her early 50s and my father being ill much of the next dozen and a half years and finally died, did not awaken me to the realization that I would die. If you were to ask me back then, I knew that we all die, but I really did not know at the same level as I do now having danced with death a couple of times.

Nevertheless, having prostate cancer that had spread beyond the prostate helped wake me up. However, after falling off a ladder while painting my deck and having a subdural hematoma, I can assure you that I am awake to my vulnerability. I have lead death twice during our dances, but I will not be able to lead death forever. While being successful twice, the chances of a misstep of mine while dancing is something about which I am forced to address.

That smack in the face certainly has caused me to deal with Jack and Owen differently. I had a granddaughter, Ayanna, over a dozen years prior to my dancing with death and while enjoying and loving her, it is not the same. She is out in the real world of college, and Jack and Owen toddle around their world.

Another issue might cause my being driven about those two little ones is that being nearly 71. When you read this essay, it will be only a matter of a couple of weeks before I turn 71. Being born in January, I have a habit of looking back on not only the previous year but also back upon the previous years. Those years have been filled with successes and failures. I have faced both...some of them I have handled quite well and about which I am proud. However, I have stumbled and fallen many times. In addition, it has often taken some time to get back into the swim of things after a failure.


Therefore, I would like to give Jack and Owen a legacy. Therefore, this is addressed to them. I am writing this so that years from now when they read and attempt to understand what I feel, they will understand my legacy to them. You are free to read my words to them. Something that I say may benefit you on your journey through life.

Jack and Owen, I leave my legacy in these words to you. Read them, think about them, and question them. However, grasp my words, which have often been expressed in hugs and in laughter. What is written is far more valuable than any sum of money that you can imagine. Here is my written legacy to the two of you. This applies to my granddaughter who is certainly old enough to understand it:

  1. Believe in yourself. I have been around for a long time. You two kids are the greatest two toddlers in the world. Okay, maybe out there in some isolated place miles away on the other side of the world, there may be two of your equals. Perhaps. However, I have not met them. When this legacy is posted on my webpage, Ya-Ya and I will be getting ready to flying home from Burma. Check with me when we get back about whether I found your equals in Burma. In the meantime, you are truly gifted...and I cherish you.
  2. Address pain. No pain no gain. When most of the people that you will meet in life, you will find that they will attempt to avoid pain. Pain is anything that causes you a problem or discomfort. This lesson, which I am sharing with you, took me a long time to understand fully.
  3. Do not give up. This is closely tied to the no pain no gain point. One of the mistakes that we all make is to try something several times and quit trying after several failed attempts. We will often choose to avoid failure by stop failing at something. Adopt the Edison mindset. He did not view his 6000 attempts to invent the light bulb as failures. They were merely opportunities to succeed.
  4. Do what you do best. That applies to school and life in general. If you like math and science or the humanities, do your best in school. What matters is that you excel in whichever field you like the most. Your brain was preprogrammed with many things that will assist your decision making process. Find out what courses come naturally to you, and do well in them. However, devote some time to learning those things that come harder for you. While I love the humanities and find science more difficult, a week does not go by in any of my humanity classes where I do not allude to something scientific. Whether it is the ever-expanding universe, the big bang, or the evolution of the universe or humans, I will mention how that scientific issue affects the various courses that I might be teaching at the time.
  5. Travel the US but travel also the world. After 70-years, I have travelled much of the US and Eastern and Central Canada. I have learned a great deal while adding up 10s of thousands of miles. It is well-worth the time and money. In addition, travel outside of North America. I have lived in Scotland for a year, travelled over nearly all of Western Europe and much of Central Europe, Africa, Asia, the Middle East, Indochina, and the sub-continent of India. Ya-Ya and I will be flying back from several weeks in Burma when others will read this essay about my legacy to the two of you. You learn a lot from books. However, travel and experiencing different cultures, ethnic backgrounds, customs, languages, histories, races, and religions is absolutely critical to being well-educated. It adds depth to your learning acquired through books.

Jack and Owen, when this article is posted on my webpage, we will be flying back to the States. Ya-Ya and I have missed you both. But soon, we will be together again...

Al reading to Jack and Owen

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