- A trip back to the midwest — and the passing of my last grandparent — raises the question: what do we have that we can take with us, and what do we leave behind?
Around 15 years ago I went home — home being Indiana — to a small town in the lush rolling hills south of Fort Wayne. After living in the Phoenix area, in the middle of the barren Sonoran Desert for the better part of twenty years, the view during the landing run to Indianapolis airport was a stunning contrast to the dry browns, rusted reds, and bleak grays I had been living with for two decades. I was absorbed in the panorama below of a patchwork quilt of vigorous greens, muddy river browns, and flat blues, of furrows of farmland crops bordered and broken with creeks and modest rivers.
It was Life. Everywhere. As far as the eye could see.
What brought me there, unfortunately, was just the opposite of Life. My grandmother, my father’s mother and my only surviving grandparent, had passed away at the respectable age of 90, and I had come to be some support to my father as he faced this grim milestone.
Naturally came the observance, and the service, and being a pall-bearer, and standing at the gravesite where her earthly remains were to be buried next to her late husband, who had gone nearly forty years before her, a grandfather I literally was too young to remember.
Standing with relatives who had lived their lives only one step removed from the farming life their ancestors had lived, with cousins who had children who had raised livestock for competition — as they had — for the 4H Fair. A life style that was alien to me.
A few of them thought of me as some kind of sophisticate.
Then, for me, came the really tough part — Grandma’s apartment.
How do you sort out someone else’s life? What do you do with what you find? I wound up asking that question of myself over and over as we dug deeper into the things she had left behind. Through most of her life she had been exceedingly well organized, but understandably over her later years some of that organization went by the wayside.
What I didn’t find in the apartment, or her will (which left us some money, thank you very much, Grandma) was her wisdom.
She didn’t leave that in a form that could be shared again. It was gone, living on, to some extent through my father and the people she had shared her life with on a day-to-day basis, but otherwise it had died with her.
She lived 90 years.
She saw the “flapper” era.
She lived through the Great Depression.
She heard about the Hindenburg disaster as it happened, and I’m sure laughed dismissively when Orson Welles reported on an invasion from Mars.
She must have been quietly relieved that her only son was far too young to go to war, the Good War that it was. Perhaps her mind lingered on the Book of Revelations when then President Truman told the world the only atomic weapons used in combat had brought World War II to an end.
She saw the invention of the majority of the technologies we take for granted. Refrigerators, clothes driers, commercial aircraft, the personal computer, the internet.
She lived through the trials of her life outwardly with a quiet patience grounded in her faith, managing this without the assistance of psychologists and pharmaceuticals.
She had survived through the roller coaster of the 20th Century.
There had to be perspective there, and wisdom, intangibles that had very tangible value. With the possible exception of the relatives I stood with those years ago — those relatives who are still with us — my Grandmother’s wisdom went with her.
Are you going to take it with you?
(Your wisdom, that is.)
What is your legacy?
What will you leave behind that could make things better for those that survive you … for your children … your grandchildren … and all of the human experience that is to come?
Back when our country was primarily an agricultural one, generational wisdom had an opportunity to be passed down by parenting, mentorship, or, if by nothing else, osmosis. But because of the disintegration of the nuclear family in America in the aftermath of industrialization — the younger generations leaving the farms to work in the cities — along with the subsequent weakening of the family unit as a result of a number of the effects of the post WW-II industrialization boom (and accompanying baby-boom), generational wisdom went unrelayed.
The transmission lines of acquired wisdom were downed, and have yet to be repaired.
Perhaps, once all generations take to the internet, a new kind of transmission line will be in place for those who wish to use it.
I feel, in my own little way, articles like this, freely available to anyone who cares to take the time on them, are my legacy.
(I am arrogant enough to think that what I am saying here has value. Perhaps the sheer intensity of my primal charisma has persuaded you into believing this, too.)
(The charisma is just oozing from my words, isn’t it?)
(All right. Enough about me.)
With the level of technology available nowadays to just about everyone who can read this, numerous tools to facilitate the effort of capturing our personal legacies are now in reach, making this infinitely simpler than it was only a few short years ago. With word processing, speech to text applications — and for those who want their words bound, print on demand book companies — it is as if the world is telling us you ain’t got no excuse now, pal.
I fully expect at some point, maybe in only a few short years, to take what I’ve written in my blog and go the print on demand route. Maybe the day will come that my stepson may give a copy of it to his oldest child, with the words, “This is the stuff my stepfather thought was important. There’s some silly stuff in here, but some good stuff, too.”
That would be a very good feeling.
Hope I’ll be there to experience it.
Copyright © 2010, by Daniel Brenton. All Rights Reserved.
This piece was originally written for Lyman Reed’s Creating a Better Life, and published January 17, 2009. Lyman has since retired Creating a Better Life. This was republished by permission.