Monday, November 16, 2009

Living The Minute, Leaving The Legacy

Life is a funny thing sometimes, the twists and turns it takes us.

They say that truth is stranger than fiction, no one would believe the things some people have lived through.  How could so much adventure, love, tragedy, or drama impact one life?  Yet, sometimes, isn't that what makes life rich in the first place?

I've been spending the last few weeks alternating between trying to develop a plot for National Novel Writing Month and my duties as Mom-in-Chief.  I'm on my quest to reach 50,000 words, knowing that I need to journey to at least 75,000 for an actual book.  It is something, this process of bringing fiction to life, trying to create believable characters, staying away from cliche' and the junk I can't stand to read, and be caffeinated enough to get a first draft out in one month.

When I step away from the computer and into my world, I wondered about the journey we all take.  We want to be remembered, relevant, leave something meaningful in that space between birth and death.  It was actually a point that I agreed with when I heard Tavis Smiley speak the other day.

I had to spend my Friday night with my husband at yet another rubber chicken dinner, well for them, for me it was a roasted vegetable and pasta meal (oh the pleasures of being vegetarian!).  It was for an organization I hadn't heard of but one of the things he has to do for his university.  Ironically, the HDC is 45 years old, just like me.  And perhaps the reason I hadn't heard of them is because my life has been blessed enough to not need their services.

Anyway, it was their 39th Annual Dinner and Awards Night.  They had some marquee names (who are these people anyway, put their pants on one leg at a time like the rest of us) and a live orchestra serenading us during dinner.  I didn't know any of the awardees and only some of the people around us.

Polite dinner conversation is always the course for these dressy events.  I think I was kind of peeved because my husband only told me about this one Thursday night.  I told him he is lucky I have a closet of appropriate attire.  Thanking God silently for my solid upbringing and always-ready-attitude.

The program finally came to dinner and Tavis Smiley was the keynote speaker.

I will put out a disclaimer here, I am not a Smiley fan.  I think he is an opportunist and a disgruntled Hilary Clinton supporter who is still peeved that President Obama became president without his help or endorsement.  Actually, I think he is peeved because he wanted to get another book or another feather in his cap as the self-proclaimed voice of black america like the rest of the so-called leaders/scholars/voices.

His behavior during the campaign was not something I agreed with.  He seemed more upset that then Candidate Obama did not seek out his "must-have" approval while running for President of the United States.  He made a great big point of wearing that chip on his shoulder during his State of Black America promotional event.  And his pettiness was put in place by Randall Robinson for the 10th annual event.  I was also less-than-impressed with his take-all-my-marbles-and-go exit from the Tom Joyner network and took his show to PBS.  I digress.Again.I admit, I am not a Smiley fan, did I say that already?

I also tend to think that he is self-serving and a bit of a propagandist, wondering what does he really do except make a great self-promotion campaign to be the voice of a black America that is served only by his corporate paycheck.  I have yet to see any action, nationally, as a result of his forums or covenant with black america, except to try to get more black people to buy his books and more corporate types to pay for his jets across the country. 

And that us lowly St. Louisians should feel honored that he pre-taped his show just to fly out during the week from Los Angeles and oh, by the way, he had to jet right out after the speech, no time to mix and mingle with the little people who weren't fortunate or on-time enough for the pre-show VIP reception.  All that for $75-100 a plate.  I wonder how much Tavis got for his generous time?

Well, I was slightly surprised.

Tavis spoke of true leadership and legacy.

I will concede another point and say that he does have a great memory for quotes and this probably dates back to his Indiana Pentacostal upbringing.  His voice has that oratory that I know was developed in the black church.  And having grown up in the church myself and daughter or a theologian and great orator, I could hear the sprinkles of a few "Amens" throughout the room.

And he did have a point about the unemployment rate.  The blacks national rate is often quadruple those of white counterpoints. He also made a point that the corporate top cats (probably including some of his sponsors) got rescued but the rest of us have to wait for an employment summit to talk about the 10.2% national rate (inherited economic mess, let me remind you).  What is the President going to do about the poor, the disenfranchised, the black and brown people?  So again, on that Tavis Smiley had a point.

And I agree that not everyone who is a self-proclaimed leader is truly a leader.

Legacy, that thing we leave behind, the eulogy someone else will say as he mentioned.  What will they say about you?

Is it the clothes you wore, car you drove, house you lived in that will stand as a lasting memorial to your time on earth?  Or is it deeper to include the lives you touch, the people you helped, the lasting affect you have on a child - good affect - that will be what people talk about when you are dust in the ground?

I thought that was a good part of his speech.  Perhaps that is the thing that happens when you are forty-five and can hear the memory of one's father saying "there are more years behind me than before me."

Tavis also had another point that I agree with, we do not know.  The next moment, the next breath, it is not promised to us. Something the preachers used to tell us over the pulpit, often in a way that was more hellfire and brimstone than promoting us to do something more.

Yet it is a point.

We are only here for a handbreath.

In my father's family, that handbreath for three generations ended before the fiftieth birthday.  It was his sister, my dear Aunt Flora, who was the first of his generation to reach that number and now almost thirty-five years past that number and still counting.  My father lived almost twenty years past that number.  The heart ailment seeming to cancel itself out by the fourth generation and cancer being the thing that drew my father's last breath.

It was that awareness of  how short the time really is that forced daddy and his siblings to live full lives in that space of time, larger than life legacies left behind.  Something the rest of us are trying to live up to.

I updated my life insurance policy recently because my youngest child doesn't graduate from high school until 2022.  I, if God says the same, will be fifty-eight years alive.  That seems so far away and even as recently as twenty years ago, I thought that was ancient age!  Funny how the advancing of time makes us realize we are living in the fullest moment right then, right now.

The time I have on this earth is a blessing, I hope I have blessed others as much as they have blessed my life.  There are people I want in my great cloud of witnesses, people I want in my legacy count, people I want to remember my essence.  I cherish the lives that have crossed my path, some for a moment, some for a lifetime, some for always.

It is something, again, that I agree with about Tavis' speech, we only have a minute, sixty seconds in it, what are we doing with the time?





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