I have often wondered how I will be remembered when I kick the bucket. Will I be remembered by the things that fill me with regret in my quiet moments, or by the good things that people have observed me do? Regret from stupid things I have done take up a lot of brain real estate at times, tilting me towards a more ‘slow to act’ kind of posture.
I don’t know about you but I don’t lay in bed thinking about the good things I did during the day. I spend time thinking about the poor choices I made. Not in a self destructive way (although I can spiral down if I am not careful), but in a way that sobers my pride. My mum once said to me, “when you live with regret, it keeps you humble.” Wise words from a wise person. It is true, when you are aware of your own brokenness you are less likely to focus on other peoples mistakes (although I can be a self righteous sod at times!).
Regret can be a powerful governor tempering the ego, but some people I know would rather remind themselves that they are forgiven so they can quickly move on in life as though their questionable choices never happened. I would prefer to not miss out on the sobering effects of regret that ultimatlely produce grace in me towards others. I express grace more effortlessly if I keep the weight of my errors in the front of my mind. Without this mental aid I can be an arrogant poseur!
So why all of a sudden am I thinking about leaving a legacy? Currently I am writing from a cafe in Chicago, my second home. I have loved-ones here that have shared dark times with me, crying, laughing, celebrating and asking the big questions. When our girls were born 3 months premature, we were adopted by an older couple (only in years, not thinking or looks) they cared for us unconditionally through the toughest of times. Introducing Grammy and Papa – we now see them as blood family. 20 blogs would not cover the breadth of the story so I won’t do it an injustice by summarizing.
On Monday morning I woke to an email from Grammy saying Papa had a major heart attack, didn’t have a pulse when he arrived at the hospital and it wasn’t looking good. It is understood from the 911 calls that he may not have had a heart beat for at least 10 minutes. On arrival the emergency team shocked his body twice to revive him and proceeded to unblock his heart valve. Then they packed him in ice keeping him in an induced coma. On receipt of the news I immediately got organized and was on a plane the next morning heading to Chicago. I packed my rarely used suit in preparation for a funeral – Papa made me promise many years ago that I’d sing his favorite song when he finally kicked the bucket. I had a 24 hour plane trip to meditate on how much of a father and friend he had been to me while preparing for the worst.
On arrival in L.A. my phone chimed the obligatory message sounds as digital heaven filled my inbox. In a brash contrast to my sorrowful plane flight, my wife had sent an amazing text somewhere between Melbourne and L.A. Our daughter Sunshine had spelt her name on a computer for the first time. Sunny has severe Cerebral Palsy and we have been waiting for a moment like this for years. Joy filled my heart and in an unsettling way unravelled the last 24 hours of my contemplating death. Once again life was showing me its extremes – in one given moment it can be powerful, mysterious, unforgiving, beautiful and yet dangerous. I felt conflicted about how to feel but I had to keep focused and catch another plane to Chicago.
Soon after an awkward landing, I was finally in Chicago and promptly driven straight to the hospital. In the lift on the way to the second floor, I was breathing deeply trying to center myself preparing for what I was about to see. I walked into the room, Papa was on life support but somewhat stable. All the sounds of the ICU had a haunting familiarity to it reminding me of when my girls were born and on life support – to be honest, I hated it. All I knew to do was pray sincere prayers despite my doubts about whether God would ever heal someone or not – it certainly hadn’t worked for me in the past. Papa didn’t need my doubts though, he needed my hope so I prayed anyway.
Fast forward through a rollercoaster several days and I was now witnessing a miracle, I was having in-depth conversations with Papa and helping him walk to the loo – an incredible turn of events. Papa has defied all the doctors expectations forcing them to also use the word ‘miracle’. Professionals were saying they had never seen a recovery like this before. He has a long way to go but he is going to be ok.
Enthused by his journey from the firm grip of death to the everest of life, he told me with conviction that he loved me – it was a heartfelt expression. Being told you are loved by someone who has come back from the dead has a surreal slow motion affect on how you hear things! After my first conversation with Papa that evening, I arrived back where I was staying and rearranged my suitcase placing the suit I brought for his funeral to the side and out of the way. I smiled…I wouldn’t be needing it.
I lay in bed contemplating the day and in a strange moment of fear I placed my hand on my own heart wondering how much life it had left – I wished it could talk to me damn it! I know life is fleeting….but how fleeting? Regardless of my sobering relfection on my life span, jet lag began to beat my eyes into submission and I succumbed. Not even a wired night owl like me can stay awake for more than 36 hours!
As a couple, Grammy and Papa are the wonder kids and I mean that with complete respect. They are young and progressive with bounds of energy still employed in their seventies. I am convinced they are young because they continue to give out and refuse to live selfishly. They aren’t thinking about a cushy retirement where they can indulge their hard earned savings, they are neck deep in peoples lives sharing their wisdom that they earned with the passing of time.
Papa and Grammy’s legacy has impacted their children too. In an expression of generosity, the children graciously shared their parents with me in this deeply personal time, not with caution, but open arms as though I was a brother. When death rang Papa’s doorbell like a persistent salesman, you would expect his family to huddle up keeping others at a slight distance. Instead they included me in the doctors reports, asked my opinion, gave me time to talk with Papa and let me hug him. Amazing parents, amazing children…..
What legacy will I leave behind that is immune to death’s tenacious grip? What color will I contribute to the rainbow of life? Green is my favorite color, I hope I leave a shade of green in life’s rainbow! Green reminds me of the Australian bush fire where in a matter of weeks plants begin to litter the floor of the blackened bush, green is a garment for plant life that sucks up carbon dioxide and breathes out oxygen, it oozes serene and is inviting…you get the picture. Some green sprouts will never be seen by human eyes but regardless contribute to the cycle of life – I love that imagery as it prompts me to give life and not look for recognition just like Papa and Grammy do.
I want to celebrate life and not resent it, or worse, idolise it. I want to observe it respectfully embracing its surprises knowing every moment contributes towards a legacy whether I like it or not – the only choice I have is will it be positive or negative. My most powerful legacy will be outside the immediacy of what people see on the surface, it will be the slow burn commitments that have remained under the radar and out of reach from the causticity of pride.
So….green is my legacy color. I don’t know Papa’s favorite color, I’ll ask him today but I wouldn’t be surprised if it is all the colors. He has a big enough heart to accommodate the full spectrum of the rainbow, something for me to work towards…. he is a Legend.