Identifying a Legacy

Friday, May 20, 2011

From what we hear, Dave was given a standing ovation as he was voted for recommendation as faculty emeritus to the college trustees. We also heard that plenty of “seconds” were cast at the call for the nomination. I am not surprised! Video at 11:00, as they say. I am anxious to get a copy of the taped meeting.

Legacy building. What a luxury of time we have to really think about the mark Dave’s life has left on others and how he can be honored by those who love him now and into the future. More than an epitaph, legacy can embrace his values, his roles in life, his characteristics and achievements. Legacy can acknowledge the human and humane events of his life. I feel fortunate to be thinking and acting upon all of these elements of his legacy about him and with him. More to come on this later, but, what is important today is that I am, we are, finding great peace in the process and plans. Taking action cannot be underestimated for healing the pain of grief.

I feel a great need and desire to do this right, that is, preserve his legacy, from both a professional and personal viewpoint. After all, Navigating Grief is specifically about capturing family stories of our loved ones. Not just the stories, but how the individual’s stories impact the related lives. I believe that until we know this impact personally – good , bad or indifferent – loss continues to hover as the pain of grief. Once the losses have been named, examined and given permission to be what they are, then peace will come. Sadness, missing the person, remembrances, regrets, joys, and all the rest of the emotions will fall in place and be OK. They may not disappear, but they can be assimilated into a productive life. Finding peace can be difficult work, but the insights into humanity and self is priceless.

I know that I cannot embrace every ounce of Dave’s history. The man I know is not always the same man others know. His youthful ways in the world, from which wisdom arises, were far different than his most recent years. I certainly don’t want to create a pedestal that falsely elevates or embellishes or makes him appear larger than life itself. That just wouldn’t be a reflection on Dave.

I do want to underscore that his life matters to many, many people, and that I know there will be souls who quietly discover when he is gone and may want to acknowledge his lasting work. I do want to carry his name forward in honor; I like the idea of immortality in remembrance. Mostly, for today, I want him to know that “warts and all” he is loved and he deserves a lasting tribute for his contributions to his family, to multiple institutions of higher education, and to his students, friends and colleagues.

Teachers in general, well, excellent teachers, are silently revered. Their work can be profoundly life-changing. Often there are years between the classroom and an individual’s deep understanding of a teacher’s influence. Dave’s legacy as a professor is lifelong learning. His simple goal in the classroom was to help students consciously and discriminatingly read, write, think, and talk.

Today, I am forced to witness activities dearest to him dissipate one by one. Reading, the love of his life since his youngest memories, has gone. Writing, gone along with it. For now, thinking and talking still abound. But most reassuringly, into the future, through those of us who have been touched by his being, I take comfort to know his legacy will be carried on for generations to come.

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