While working in the political side of Washington and government for a dozen or so years as part of our 23 years in the nation’s capital, I dealt with many folks who worried about their “legacy” in life.
Legacies even have a “project” dedicating to help people understand what they might, or might not, leave when they die.
“Legacy is fundamental to what it is to be human,” says Susan V. Bosal of The Legacy Project, which calls itself a joint Canadian-American project based in Toronto with offices in Washington, DC. “Research shows that without a sense of working to create a legacy, adults lose meaning in their life. Exploring the idea of legacy offers a glimpse not only into human relationships and building strong communities, but also the human spirit.”
On its website, The Legacy Project describes itself as “an independent, big-picture research, learning, and social innovation group that works across generations.”
In other words, what does any of us do to impact our lives, our community and the world around us?
In the early years of a rambunctious career as a newspaperman who covered news, photographed events and wrote opinion columns, I often said goals centered around “raising hell and having a good time.”
I subscribed to the words of Chicago newspaperman Finley Peter Dunne, who often quoted a fictional 19th century Irish bartender in his columns in the Chicago Evening Post in the late 1800s.
That bartender, Mr. Dooley, said (according to Dunne):
Th’ newspaper does ivrything f’r us. It runs th’ polis foorce an’ th’ banks, commands th’ milishy, controls th’ ligislachure, baptizes th’ young, marries th’ foolish, comforts th’ afflicted, afflicts th’ comfortable, buries th’ dead an’ roasts thim aftherward.
The quote, complete with Irish alliteration, later became a cleaned up quote to say: “The job of the newspaper is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.”
As a brash and overbearing columnist for an Illinois newspaper in the 1970s, I drank too much, chased too many women and took on elected officials, bureaucrats and others engaged in tomfoolery. Too often, I did it without caring who got hurt and what ill effects such attacks might bring.
If such antics define whatever “legacy” I might have, I deserve whatever shame it brings. Today, at age 71, I try to show more restraint but stupid things done in the past build a legacy of their own.
As a recovering alcoholic who hopes to celebrate 25 years of sobriety in June, I have spent much of the past two decades trying to make amends to those I harmed during more than three decades as a drunk. It’s a long list and a failing memory brought on by a brain injury seven years ago and seven decades of abuse to a worn out body has taken its toll.
In recent years, I have tried to openly discuss my failings. I’m a flawed person who put his own desires ahead of the needs of others far too many times. If those failures define my life, it is a definition I deserve.
Perhaps I have lost the ability to reason. Recent things I thought might be helpful to people have, instead, brought anger and disapproval. What I thought might help people became objects of ridicule and charges that I have attempted to glorify myself or my actions.
Thoughts of glory or self-esteem are not my goals in these last days. Redemption is beyond reach.
I accept these failures as self-inflicted wounds. I hope I have learned from the experiences but others say I have still an overbearing asshole and egomaniac.
Perhaps Willie Nelson sang it best:
There’s just a little fashioned karma coming down
Just a little old fashioned justice going round
It really ain’t hard to understand
If you’re gonna dance you gotta pay the band
It’s just a little old fashioned karma coming down*