“If you’re going to live, leave a legacy. Make a mark on the world that can’t be erased.” ~ Maya Angelou.
Ninety-nine years ago, my father was born, the third child of a truck driver and his housewife. He grew up in a working-class neighborhood knowing that the only way out of poverty was education. He told us that he struggled in school, called himself a late developer. He was also one of those left-handed children who was forced to write with his right hand. Like his two brothers ahead of him, he excelled in sports, earning awards in cross country and more. Like his two brothers he went off to university, and participated in athletics at the university level, even though his racing shorts were created by his wife out of her slip! By the way, does anyone still wear slips or underskirts?
This month, his eldest grandchild goes off to university, now the 4th generation to do so. In a nice series of coincidences, her grandmother shared birthdays with her great-grandfather; and she and her father also have birthdays within the same week. Although my father believed in education, he did not believe in over-glorifying such achievements. One of his sayings was ‘pass and put down’. He encouraged people where possible to go and get the necessary pieces of paper, the certificates and degrees, and then move on with your life. We often find every excuse not to go back to school, but he was a pragmatist. If it will help make you more marketable, if it will give you more opportunities, go for it.
The beautiful thing about education, about pursuing higher degrees is that it exposes you to so much you didn’t know before. You are forced to read, and write, and analyze. You discover worlds and words you didn’t know existed! At one point after I went back to school, I had to sit an exam in math and English. I didn’t worry too much about the English, I was sure I had a great command of the English language. The math I had to brush up on. Until I discovered that the exam would include long forgotten (if they were ever learned) concepts like lines, slopes and intercepts; probability and logic. I struggled with those formulae and turned to the English practice exams for relief, only to discover that the words I thought I knew meant something totally different! Pusillanimous versus pugilistic; synonyms? No, antonyms! I learned that I had to work at the English too.
Words are wonderful things. Sometimes they sound like what they mean (onomatopoeia). Sometimes you can say the same thing twice like reversing backwards (tautology). And some words make you go hmmmmm. The other day I realized that I knew what reiteration means, but what does iteration mean? We talk about a ‘new iteration’ as if it means a new version. But iteration means repetition. So, what is reiteration? And then you think about the word disheveled – is there a way to look heveled? Or if you can be couth, can you be uncouth? My father and I would have such conversations, seemingly meaningless but enjoyable nonetheless.
The things we share with our parents, or with our children and grandchildren, may not be obvious. We may not be able to leave behind a legacy of a great estate filled with heirlooms and treasures. Yet, if we are lucky, we may be inheriting and passing down a love of abstract things. Thanks to Facebook we can often share in the lives of others, we can see mothers taking daughters out on explorations of the world, going to museums and plays, to concerts in the park. These are things that the daughters will do with their daughters. A legacy of adventure and discovery. You may inherit your mother’s collections of clocks, or you may inherit her fascination with nature, or her love of tree-climbing, or her delight in the absurd. I often find myself enjoying flowers, things in my garden, for the pleasure they would have given my mother.
This week has been an interesting one in the world of social upheaval and politics. As we see the depths to which we can plunge our world through greed and overdevelopment, we also watched a teenager stepping onto the world stage and scolding us for the legacy we leave her and her generation. As forest fires burn unchecked, they give way for new growth and rebirth. In the cycle of life we have to trust in the ability of the world to survive the worst of human behavior.
It is sometimes said that the worst of times brings out the best in people. Here’s hoping that we can continue to be inspired by the courageous acts of those who are willing to take a stand, even if it exposes them to ridicule and scorn. They are creating a legacy for the rest of us to follow.
This morning I will be visiting my grandson’s ‘Generations’ event at his school. It is good to reflect on what special gifts we have inherited, and what we may pass on to future generations. I will try to be ‘heveled’ and ‘couth’ as I represent the generations that brought me to this place. Have a wonderful weekend, Family!