Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Leaving a $300 Legacy?

What kind of legacy will you leave? More than $300?

This was the question I asked as I mounted the stage and stood at the podium wondering how to say something significant in less than 10 minutes. The crowd was mostly older, 60s and 70s, but evident among them were the young men and women who were the focal point of the event. The seniors looked earnest, as if they were, like me, well aware they faced a much shorter future than the students sitting at their tables. The young people also looked earnest, but with a different expression. It was one of hope and opportunity in the frontier of the future yet to be. I was there as an alumnus, sharing the commitment our family had to providing scholarships to students who attend Trinity Western University, and encouraging others to do likewise. I spoke about legacy.  It had come to me while doing chores in the backyard that morning, madly scrambling to finish raking leaves while at the same time searching my aging and somewhat outmoded mental database…more like a creaky Rolodex… for a topic to talk on).

At the same time as I was speaking, I was painfully aware of my uncooperative quivering hand clutching my belt as I suppressed the question that lurked in the back of my mind. What kind of legacy can a person with Parkinson's disease leave?

We all will leave a legacy, even those with Parkinson's. Perhaps more so.  But what kind of legacy?

It is amazing how many ways in which the lives that we live might leave an indelible mark on others. Let me challenge you, as I did myself this past weekend, to see our lives as significant, one way or another.

For some the easy legacy to leave is money. That brings me to my $300 legacy.  It was in the form of a 1970 graduation scholarship that was invested in me in order that I could go to college. I was an average student who was not challenged much by school, wore his hair down to his shoulders and drove his blue Volkswagen Beetle fast and recklessly. I would not have impressed many, but I often remember thinking as I climbed to the stage 39 years ago to receive that relatively small scholarship, "It is a good thing they do not really know me.". But little did I realize at the time how that small scholarship would enable me to begin an undergraduate degree, which led to a law degree, that led to a modestly successful career (30 years so far) of fulfilling service, and the pleasure of building a law firm. Ironically, or perhaps fittingly, it has now led to the ability to annually contribute so that others might have the same opportunity.

While many struggle to even afford to pay for their Parkinson's meds, everyone can leave a legacy of friendships and family. Whether we are grandparents, uncles and aunts, brothers and sisters, or close friends, we will be remembered for the contributions we made to other people's lives. It is a legacy of relationships we will leave. Investments made in people.

For those of us seeking to confront the challenge of Parkinson's disease, will we be remembered as fighters or complainers? Will people remember us for our constant recitation of pains and pill dosages? Or will they think of us for having imparted some of the wisdom that comes from fighting the battles, and even winning a few?

I am extremely thankful for the people who invested in me. I owe them something. I need to reinvest in others. I need to leave memories minted in the minds of others that encourage, not discourage. Recollections that lead to laughter, not sadness. I need to model perseverance and courage so that others who follow and are forced to face the bully of Parkinson's are better prepared.

I was speechless as I left that stage, realizing that I had been speaking most loudly to myself. Now that is a challenge!

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