Last week, an ambulance took away my next door neighbor, Don. He’d had a stroke.
Last night, Don entered hospice care.
Life is Fragile
My wife lost her father when she was a child, just like my mom lost her mother when she was a toddler. When a child loses a parent at an early age, that child doesn’t hear”It will be okay” when he’s scared in the middle of the night after a loud thunder clap or when something goes bump.
When you understand how fragile life is, you tend to hold sacred the life of those around you.
Life is Sweet
As my wife and I sat on the couch talking, she told me, “Before you moved here, Don next door would come and check on me. He’d do some of the yard work that I couldn’t get to, and he was sweet and encouraging to me when I felt overwhelmed. Now…”
Don is one of a handful of native North Carolinians I know, and he has an Andy Taylor warmth in his voice and twinkle in his eyes. As a young 60-something, Don retired to start his own landscaping business. In retirement, Don kept busier than most full-time employees. When he wasn’t overseeing his crew on an off-site project, he worked to beautify his own yard and the common areas of our subdivision.
The last couple of years, Don let a highly invasive thistle grow near our property line. This weed will spread quickly, choking out indigenous plants. I joked that, as a landscaper, Don was just ensuring future business when the weed spread and invaded every yard, sort of the same conflict of interest if doctors handed out free cigarettes with each office visit. But I knew that wasn’t Don’s motive. No, the thistles provide food and shelter for a variety of finches, and Don loved to watch the birds from his front porch.
When you embrace how sweet life is, you focus on the rose, not the thorns.
Life is Fleeting
Not two weeks ago, my wife’s Uncle Emil finally succumbed after a long illness. As part of her grieving, she berated herself for not seeing him more often in recent years, even though he lived on the opposite coast. She said that until she met me, her Uncle Emil was the only Italian man she’d known. She was quick to point out, “But he was very lean” as a way of reminding me that I’m…not.
When we purchased a vintage Pictionary game at Christmas for the family, she told her daughters that the game held fond memories for her since she had last played it with Uncle Emil years before.
When you come to realize how brief life is, you cherish every positive memory, and you keep those memories alive by sharing them with others.
Life is Fading
My wife said to me, “Yesterday, I was young. I mean, literally, yesterday I had the world in front of me. And now….” Her voice trailed off. “Where does it go?”
She was describing that teeter-totter of existence where we spend the first half of life young, looking ahead, and the second half of life old, looking back. That one, small moment in the middle where we balance precariously between our potential and our reality, I think that’s when knowledge converts to wisdom.
When you finally understand the speed of which what lies ahead becomes where did it go?, you become more intentional about how you live each day.
Dan Fogelberg’s song, Leader of the Band” is Dan’s tribute to his musician father. The chorus speaks of a living legacy:
The leader of the band is tired
And his eyes are growing old
But his blood runs through my instrument
And his song is in my soul
My life has been a poor attempt
To imitate the man
I’m just a living legacy
To the leader of the band
My wife and I wish to be living legacies to those who live, or lived, before us and made us who we are today.
Whenever we face an impossible work challenge, we honor Jocelyn’s mother and father who designed and built their own home–with no special training or skills–using tenacity, creativity, and frugality. By practicing those character traits, we become living legacies…
Whenever we feel obliged to do something unpleasant, we honor my mother and father who worked tirelessly for years–never asking for thanks or anything in return–providing selflessly and most generously to those around them. By practicing those character traits, we become living legacies…
Whenever we play a game or read a book to our children, we honor Uncle Emil whose sense of humor and spirit of fun allowed him to be equally at ease with a group of professionals or a gaggle of children. By practicing those character traits, we become living legacies…
And whenever we work to beautify our yard and our community, we honor Don who chose to create beauty in the world around him and help others do the same. By practicing those character traits, we become living legacies…
How can you become a living legacy to those who’ve gone before you?