LEGACY 14: THE VALUE OF WRITING

May 24, 2018

(LEGACY 13 is missing not for any superstitious reason but simply because i got stuck. But I don’t want to lose momentum, so for now, I’m skipping it.

It was titled THE VALUE OF MARRIAGE, originally “written” 10/12/14, but it turns out to be only an introductory paragraph. Trying to complete it now, I’m not happy with what I’m coming up with it. Hopefully I will cobble something together that is meaningful. Suffice it to say for now that I think marriage has great value. My first lasted 25 years and ended only because my wife died. My second is coming up on 19 years.

This blogpost, LEGACY 14, was originally written 03/21/15 and is posted verbatim with only one small change.)

Writing for some can be journaling or blogging. I’ve done both, but not consistently. I strongly encourage some sort of writing by which you are leaving a legacy. I would treasure reading some of the thoughts of my ancestors. What went through their minds? What were their experiences, and their understanding of the journeys?

One hidden value, however, is that writing itself can change you, develop you, and even re-create you. I think of my favorite songwriter’s statement about the Christian Creed, “I did not make it, no, it is making me.” Writing can be a process of enlightenment. I can recall times when I have realized something, had a revelation, seen something in a different light, while in the process of writing about it. Sometimes the very process of writing caused me to write something totally unexpected, something totally different from what I started out to write about. And I end up sometimes thinking of myself—and others—differently.

Writing has a calming effect for me. It brings me perspective, enables me to see things through others’ eyes, forgive where I need to, even pray for someone or through something. Writing is a microcosmic journey, a mini-adventure. It can capture a dream or explore mysteries.

Writing well-done can move the world. Think of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech, some of Shakespeare’s soliloquies or Donne’s sonnets. Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Lincoln felt, contributed significantly to bringing the Civil War to a head, and there are other books—novels, exposés, and such—that have had similarly great impact.

Writing releases tension AND energy. Writing brings ideas into a reality of concreteness. Writing connects us with like minds.

Writing is a vehicle for creativity to go places, to gain traction, to start movements.

Writing can be life-giving, life-breathing, breathtaking. Writing can spark fires that cannot be quenched, and quench fires that should never have been started.

An ancient Chinese proverb says, “Weakest ink stronger than strongest memory.” If we want memory to go further than our lifetime and the memories of those who have known us directly, writing is the only way.

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LEGACY 12: THE WORK OF MARRIAGE

May 21, 2018

(Originally written 10/12/14, and updated)

Make no mistake about it: Marriage takes WORK. And having a GOOD marriage takes GREAT work—great both in quantity and quality.

On July 31, 2018, we will celebrate 19 years. My first marriage lasted a FULL (in both senses of the word) 25 years—and would likely be still going if my first wife had not died. So I feel I can speak with some authority on marriage. I may have failed at many things I’ve attempted, but I have made marriage work.

It doesn’t seem logical that marriage should require work—but then again it does. Much of our concept of modern-day Western marriage is based on romantic notions of love that have not historically prevailed. As a result, we have an illusion of marriage that often doesn’t fit reality.

Marriage is a practicality that enables two persons to bond together very disparate personalities. Thus, accommodation is required. Adjustments must be made. Adaptation is necessary.

Longevity requires an unspoken belief in the “till death do us part” part in our depths, whether we realize it or not. Interestingly, it often does require a sort of death along the way—death to our self-will, our habits, our preconceived notions. And if this commitment is not there, the changes we undergo individually will undermine the marriage, and it is destined to fail.

Also, in today’s culture, work is required to resist the swell of public opinion and cultural bias against marriage. Even tax structures in the US discourage marriage. The prevailing opinion seems to be, “Why bother?” Even religious favor is not as popular. It has not always been so. A century ago, social and religious pressure was the only factor keeping some marriages together, but it was strong enough to do just that. Duty was enshrined, and sanctity of marriage was at least believed in if not practiced.

The work required comes in all areas, even the most intimate. Yes, there are rewards, and fun, and good times, and those sustain and propel the work portions. It is not all work and no play, but set your mind to the fact that it does require work, sometimes at the most unexpected times and in ways we hadn’t planned on. Life slams us with sickness, accidents, and more, and sometimes it even becomes the carrying of one by the other for extended periods—I have known several men and women who sustained marriages that made outsiders wonder how and why they felt it worth it, but they kept trudging along like Admiral Peary seeking the North Pole. One such person is my father-in-law. If my mother-in-law had lived till May of 2017, they would have been married 70 years! And the last 11 years or so he stayed focused and committed through her increasingly debilitating Alzheimer’s disease. He is one of my heroes.

No one else besides you can decide whether marriage is indeed worth the investment. A man’s mind is his own. But we do not live in a vacuum—we are definitively influenced by the opinions of others. If we choose marriage, we must surround ourselves with others who agree, who help make it work.

The value of marriage makes it worth the work, but that’s another story.

LEGACY 11: THE VALUE OF LEGACY: Why Does It Matter?

May 20, 2018

(Originally written 9/30/14. The grandson mentioned here is almost 7 now.)

Why is being consciously concerned about leaving a legacy important? Why does it even matter?

The only answer that even works is love.

A hundred years from now, who will remember me personally? No one, most likely. A century later, if any of us exist at all in anyone’s consciousness, it is as a name on a building plaque or tombstone or in a genealogy. Nothing remains. Anonymous dust. (Since I plan to be cremated, there won’t even be the tombstone in my case.)

So why bother caring? For the same reason that, in that unthinking heartbeat, without batting an eyelash, we would lay down our lives for the grandson we are taking to the museum. He matters that much.

True, he probably won’t be around in that same hundred years, but leaving him something significant, consciously, may make it easier for those he transmits his legacy to. Someone has transmitted their legacy, even if only genetically, to get me here, and others have transmitted culture, knowledge, and sustainability to get us all here. So somehow, it matters.

We have to love enough to leave a legacy. The only legitimacy legacy can claim is caring enough to make it happen. Deep inside, in our core, we care, enough to want it to matter. So we strive to leave something behind.

I can remember crying in my early school days, asking my dad—in my own mind— why he had had to leave me. (He committed suicide when I was 3.) But sometimes a clarity would come in, that perhaps he had left me more by leaving me—I had social security and veteran benefits for school that I would not have had otherwise. And who knows what negative memories I was spared? Maybe in leaving me, he loved me more than even he knew. I still pray for him—that is part of his legacy in leaving.

We have to love our past adequately in order to value the future. The continuity needs to be established. It took me until I was age 60 to track back past my father’s father’s name, age, and residence listed on my dad’s birth certificate. I found a brokenness in the life of his father—my great-grandfather—that explained it. He had killed his mother accidentally at age 17, and died when his son was 12. That son, my grandfather, never married my grandmother, leaving more brokenness. (My father’s birth certificate says they were married, but I’m almost certain that was a cover-up, based on other genealogical clues.)

But out of all those brokennesses, and a multitude of others, the mosaic of my life is pieced together. I have to try to step back enough to discern the picture. And even then, I only catch glimpses of glory.

But I care enough to try to leave it for my son and daughter, for their daughters, and for this grandson who is not even my flesh and blood. He may never read this, but it matters to me. I love that much.

LEGACY 10: THE REAL VALUE OF MONEY (AND CURRENCY)

May 19, 2018

(Originally written 9/27/14)

I have been told I am one of the most generous people someone knows. I love to give. And that may be why I am where I am in life, as far as having not saved and having no cushion for retirement.

That may also cause a lot of people to disrespect my opinions about money and investing. So be it.

But I do not apologize for it. To me, the real value of money is its ability to bless people, to bring momentary happiness and satisfaction and relief from troubles—i.e., its currency, its ability to make relationships flow between people in good ways. Yes, it has propensities for evil use—and a lot of that is determined by its use, its application to specific situations. That application is a reflection of the morals, the values, the attitude of the person who is wielding its momentary and fleeting power.

The longer-lasting—indeed, eternal power, if it is to have any at all—is in giving. Giving graciously and gloriously—unexpectedly, serendipitously—gives money a real value (and here I think of the Spanish meaning of real: ROYAL). Money is at its best serving, benefiting, being used to add value to the overall human condition, furthering life and not death. This is why we honor philanthropists (even when their money has been ill-gotten)—somehow, they have laid hold of the principle of giving.

And in the final analysis, money is only one form of currency, often an expression of a truer one. Jesus commended the widow slipping her two meager mites into the treasure unnoticed as having more value that most giving—it reflected her heart, her desire to give all to God. We too can do that through the way we treat money.

He also commented on using this life’s resources to lay up treasures in another that will last immeasurably longer. One way to do that is to invest it in other treasures that will also be lasting into that realm—people.

One thing I frequently ask myself: What is the best way I can bless this person? Sometimes, if their heart is closed to me, the best way is to leave them alone. But more often, it is through the currency of kindness, of praise, of unexpected gratitude, of a different mindset—valuing them for who they are, who they are becoming, who they could be. And rarely is money the primary means of doing that—but it can be used as a part of a greater plan.

“Money is a great servant, but a terrible master,” someone said. Unless we have an underlying grid that tells us how to utilize money for good, money has no currency, no real or true value. But used for meaningful purposes, it can take on eternal worth.

LEGACY 8: UNPAID AND PAID

May 17, 2018

(Originally written 9/23/14. As indicated before, the 3-year-old grandson mentioned here is now almost 7.)

Our culture makes a huge distinction between “unpaid” and “paid” in matters like services rendered. Perhaps this is due to an extreme emphasis on the supposed (attributed) value of money.

But as anyone in on their deathbed, or in a life-and-death struggle, will testify, money means little or nothing in such situations. Money is a currency of exchange, not a measure of worth. You can dignify it with fancy terms like wealth management, asset protection, etc., but in the final analysis, we seek security, significance, a sense of belonging, and other intangibles.

Net worth is not real worth. It’s that simple.

Why then do we denigrate what we do by saying, “I’m not being paid for it”? Some of the things I’ve treasured most have not cost a dime—the sharing of a bite of his cookie by my grandson, the beaming smile of my wife when I’ve surprised her with something she never expected, the simple pleasure of a fiery sunset that sets the evening sky ablaze with amazement.

Ultimately, everything is “paid” in some form or fashion. We become what we invest in, so even literally unpaid actions have dividends, sometimes tangible, but not seen as so until far down the road, or by others than ourselves.  Dan Ariely, in Predictably Irrational, makes a point that you can’t set a price on that incredible Thanksgiving dinner prepared by your mother-in-law—and that the moment you do, you cross social boundaries in ways that cannot be uncrossed.

So how do we overcome this bias towards bullion and bull markets?

  • Take the long view. Take Stephen Covey’s advice to imagine your funeral, and what 4 people in the different realms of your life are saying—then live your life in a way to make those 4 speeches state clearly what you wish your legacy to be. Starting with the end of the row in mind is one of the clearest ways to plow a straight furrow. Avoid being short-sighted in ways that will matter at the end.
  • Be thankful. Maintain an attitude of gratitude. As someone said, it’s “BE-Attitudes” that matter. Thankfulness transforms our lives in ways we could not have imagined, and keeps them fresh daily.
  • Clear up your thinking. Express yourself simply and authentically. Make sure you tell people you love them, and appreciate them. Value your enemies—they can help you improve your game.
  • Open up. Don’t wait until tomorrow to experience joy and laughter. There has been more laughter in our lives with this 3-year-old grandson in the last 2 years than in any decade of my life previous. Find delight in simple moments. Take snapshots to store in your mind—and on your electronics. Look at others’ pictures for clues on what you value.
  • There is a value in persisting that can only be found by persisting when persisting doesn’t make sense. You can only what’s beyond tomorrow by going there.

LEGACY 7: PLAY

May 16, 2018

(Originally written 9/20/14. My grandson is almost 7 now, and STILL teaching me about the value of play, of complete abandonment into the moment, and the tremendous satisfaction of those kinds of relationships!)

Play is priority. Play is primary.

I learned this from my 3-year-old grandson.

I am 62, but looking back, it is almost as if the first 55 years were in black and white. Then I began to get hold of some teachings about manhood and how men were created and designed, and a light bulb went on. It was like (as I mentioned in Legacy 4) color TV had come on the scene. I was fascinated.

But the past 2 years with this child (“a little child shall lead them”) have taught me the intense value of play. Animals learn how to survive by playing. Children do too.

We spend vast amounts of money on play and recreation: sports, vacations, even gaming and gambling, to the point of addiction and self-destruction—I knew a lady who let her marriage go down the tubes playing games like Atari and Nintendo. People take play seriously, and even get seriously overcommitted to it sometimes.

And that defeats the whole purpose of play. Play is intended to be recreational—RE-creating, as it were, renewing and restoring balance in our lives. Laughter has been proven to be healing. We don’t laugh enough. We don’t play enough, in the best sense of what it means to play. Our society is too serious. Looking back, I think when my father committed suicide at age 3, I shut play down. And for whatever reasons, most of us don’t know how to be playful, to simply enjoy life’s moments. Here and there we do, but many times we miss that joie de vivre, the utterly captivating joy that life can be. Even some commercials on TV are an attempt to re-capture that playfulness.

So how do we play effectively? How do we learn to play in ways that are refreshing and life-giving?

  • EXPERIENCE TOTAL ABANDON. I watch my grandson, and he is rapt in the moment. Nothing else matters: He whispers, “STOP!” and holds his arms out. Danger ahead! Some dragon or bad guy. He is into it on all cylinders. Sometimes when he jumps into our arms off the sofa or bed, we are not ready for him. He trusts with total abandon. Life is all in the moment.
  • FORGET THE COST. Play doesn’t have to be costly. Some of the best play times have cost nothing. One of my most memorable summers with my kids was a series of day trips to waterfalls, mountains, play areas. But if cost IS involved, don’t let cost be the focus. Spend what it takes gladly and willingly—but make the moments memorable. They only happen once.
  • LET OTHERS HELP YOU. Play is not solitary. It is meant to be shared. Treasure other people who are playful, and learn from them. Enjoy the gifts people are, just in who they are.

Play can be rewarding beyond measure. It can even be financially rewarding. Entrepreneurs who tap into play-fullness are fortunate in more ways than one!

LEGACY 6: AUTHENTICITY

May 14, 2018

(Originally written 9/20/14)

Authenticity is, at best, being who you are and were meant to be.

It’s ironic that so-called “reality” shows are really more Truman-esque than real. Because the participants are on-stage, there is an acting-ness, a phoniness.

“All of life is a test.” (from the movie The Recruit) Problem is, with tests, we don’t get to grade ourselves. Someone—or someones—outside ourselves do that. There is some standard we’re being measured against. Are we trying to measure ourselves against that yardstick rather than something intrinsic?

“To thine own self be true,” said Shakespeare’s Polonius. Ironically, he was not. Nonetheless, the truth of that statement captures our fascination. We treasure authenticity. We resonate with people who are real. We are awed by people who are able to operate gloriously in their unique gifting or calling.

Sometimes we envy them, which is a tragic waste of our own undiscovered uniqueness. Trying to copy someone else is like buying a ticket to Cancun but waiting for the plane to Cabo: It doesn’t get you where you really want to go. Both places are great destinations, but only one is right for you, and waiting in the wrong terminal IS terminal. Life is too short for envy.

How do we find our own true self?

  • We have lost the art of listening—to others, to our hearts, to silence. What resonates in your life? Everyone has SOMETHING to offer. The current hit book/movie Divergent plays on this truth, this intense desire we have to find our true calling, to be authentic. Many of our classics relate to the same truth—Tom Sawyer, Chronicles of Narnia, Lord of the Rings, Matrix—the list goes on. We can listen to the stories in what we read or watch—what characters fascinate us? What heroes would we most like to be like? There is a message in our hearts that is only heard by listening to what we are drawn to most.
  • Accept limitations. Be who you are capable of being without putting yourself down for not being more. Accept the linearity of life—we only get one, at least only one at a time. Start where you are. Steady wins the race. Plod if you must, but move toward the real you somehow. Accept the mistakes of the past—they are part of who you are. Make them count. Include them.
  • Smile. Learn to enjoy the moment. Be alive whenever you can, and focus on making it more of the time. Don’t be afraid of rejection—the world is longing for people who know who they are and aren’t afraid to show it.

Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive. –Howard Thurman.

The glory of God is man fully alive. –St. Irenaeus

LEGACY 5: Brokenness and Wholeness

May 13, 2018

(Originally written 9/16/14)

Brokenness is not necessarily a bad thing. It started out that way, obviously. We weren’t intended to be broken. But brokenness brought redemption, and resulted in wholeness again. Humpty Dumpty COULD be put together again, but it took a greater brokenness.

Wholeness—also called integrity—is related to holiness, though perhaps not by etymology (another mellifluous word). We get whole from being broken, but not necessarily by being broken. Being broken doesn’t automatically lead to wholeness. It’s not a given.

But it can be given, if we’re willing to take it. We have to make a preemptive strike against the brokenness in order to enter into wholeness. We have to visualize what it can mean to be whole. We have to desire it in order to make it happen.

And then, marvel of marvels, we can again choose brokenness to bring about someone else’s wholeness. That too is not a given, but it can be a giving. It has to be received, even if not consciously, in order to lead to wholeness in the other. Life springs out of the womb, broken open. Yeats speaks of it in a clouded way in “The Second Coming,” but I’m not sure his vision was truly of imminent (immanent?) wholeness, but rather of greater brokenness.

It’s easier to break than to make whole. It’s more tempting to destroy than to build. Building takes a lot of work, a vision of what could be, and it’s easier not to think of that and to think that tearing down is a good thing. It can be, but more often is not. Razing does not always lead to raising.

It takes deep foundations for skyscrapers, deeper still for rocket launching pads. The higher you go, the deeper you have to go first.

How much are we willing to break in order to build? How high do we really want to go?

The greatest man who ever lived never wrote anything apart from a few scribblings in the sand, waiting for breakers to stop trying to break. Yet more has been written about him, and because of him, that anyone except he would have imagined. He was broken beyond measure, in order to bring a wholeness of incomparable magnitude.

And he was a purveyor of paradoxes—die in order to live, lose in order to gain, hate in order to love.

I once had an enemy literally save my life. How paradoxical is that? I learned something there—there is value in what we despise.

How we define something in language determines its value to us. Let’s let the Word break us into wholeness.

LEGACY 4: What’s Left UNDONE

May 10, 2018

(Originally written 9/16/14, modified slightly 12/14/14)

In Legacy 1, I started off with this question and this first point:

So what do I consciously choose to leave as MY specific legacy?

  • Life is process. It’s ongoing. Keep doing it. It’s worth living. (My basis for saying this: My father committed suicide when I was 3. He had 3 bullets under the pillow his head was laying on—and they may have been intended for my mother, my younger sister, and me.)

But sometimes, doing means NOT doing. What is left undone can be as significant as what is done, just as I pointed out in Legacy 2 that what is unsaid can be as significant as what is said. Sometimes more so, for both. The fact that my father, at age 27, ended his life, but made a choice to leave something undone, has allowed me to live more than double his lifespan—62 years as of last week.

And I count the last 2 years of my life as the most significant—I’ve said more than once, I’d trade them for all of the 60 years previous. That is largely attributable to the impact of a 3-year-old grandson, who has enabled me to bring life into HD, maybe even IMAX Theater. I remember as a kid, when color TV came on the scene, watching Bonanza and Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color, along with NBC’s Peacock, on Sunday nights—what a difference color made! Then I remember buying an HD TV a couple years ago—it really did seem like I was seeing things in 3D. And this little toddler has brought that into my life, and more.

Chiaroscuro (another one of those mellifluous words!), simply defined, is “the distribution of light and shade in a picture.” Light and dark. Day and night. Male and female. Comparison and contrast. Sweet and bitter. Inhale and exhale. The list is endless. It’s even in the heart of atoms—protons and neutrons. We exist, live, and breathe by opposites. One theologian even thinks we are bi-partite beings (body and spirit/soul) rather than tri-partite.

We should appreciate opposition. It creates unnoticed greatness in us. We grow by resistance (resistance training, e.g.). Often we don’t choose it willingly—but sometimes we should.

In Genesis 1, the Spirit is seen hovering over the Void, brooding, bringing existence into existence out of nothingness. What is unseen, unnoticed, often does that for us.

“What you don’t know could kill you.” Yes, but what you don’t know is that what you don’t know can also make you alive, bring you fully alive.

Sometimes it takes a crisis moment, an NDE (near-death-experience), an epiphany, a serendipity (mellifluous!). Eureka! AHA! However you want to express it. It was there all along, unnoticed, not something you had done. Undone.

Another test. “All of life is a test.”

But be careful. The doing of it may be the undoing of it…