Warning: Personal Share coming!
It’s 4 am and I sit in a hotel room in the suburbs of Chicago. My father died on Wednesday as I was boarding a plane to come to his bedside. I came anyway. I met Joey at O’Hare Airport in the cold December rain. When I most needed it, Spirit sent a kind, loving stranger. We were waiting for rides to pick us up at Vestibule 1E. He was having a smoke. There was something about him that drew me in. I asked if he had another one of those and he did. He helped me light the cigarette and made sure I knew where to tell my sister to pick me up. Joey opened his arms and offered a hug when I told him my father had just passed away. We talked about our fathers and families. We shared pictures. He was going to visit his father’s grave and his still living 95-year-old grandma. We talked about loving all people and all things. How the world needs more love. We talked about the places we loved to travel. We talked about growing up in Illinois and life in Colorado, returning home and what that felt like. He shared his dream of building a healthy natural human-grade dog food company and saving dogs. He told me he found sales easy, and I saw that, with his warmth, he was a natural at it. He shared the story of watching his friend fall to his death right after he told Joey it was the happiest moment of his life. He shared with me the debilitating anxiety he’s felt ever since. He was kind and hugged me again before he left blowing me kisses from the passenger seat of his friend’s car as he drove away. I like Joey. Joey gives me hope for humanity.
Waking to the memory of the kindness of a stranger brings me around to thoughts about my dad’s passing. Just like that he’s gone. No physical trace left behind. All that remains are the good deeds he did. The memories of him in the minds of those who knew him. No possessions or things. It really brings home to me the foolishness of amassing things. It really brings home to me the importance of doing good work and being a part of a community. What matters is building a legacy that will last beyond your physical presence. It isn’t about houses, cars, or collectibles. It isn’t about the style or expense of the clothes your family or friends will likely donate once you leave. It’s about how you treat people, the lives you impact. It’s about who will remember you when you are gone and how they will remember you.
Now that my sisters and I cleaned out dad’s room at the assisted living center where he took his last breath, I keep going back to “all that is left are the memories he made with others.” The impressions he left with his grandchildren. The laughter, gentleness, the kindness he expressed. Sure, some will remember his struggles, the hardships he faced, and the ways he was less than kind. But the memories most will talk about are the ways he touched them positively.
I remember my dad as a difficult man. When I was growing up, he was angry and mean. He was prejudiced and small minded. He was the first emotionally unavailable man in my life—sadly, he wasn’t the last. I was afraid of him. I didn’t stick around long enough to know the elder version of him, the grandfather. The man my sisters and brothers let into their children’s lives seems a softer, gentler, kinder version of the man I grew up with. I’m happy for that. My kids didn’t know him. He once threatened to hit my two-year-old son and that was the end for me. Obviously, I’m conflicted. Even with that conflict, I can find love in my heart for the man who taught me a lot, gave me my name, provided for my physical needs as a child, and who gave me my blue eyes. Even in my conflict, it’s the positive impact he had on me that comes to the forefront. I honor the good in him as I mourn.
This lesson lands at a time when I am struggling to end a nasty divorce, when I lost my home and most of my possessions. Saying goodbye to them wasn’t easy, it felt like I had been robbed. Now I feel different. The loss of things and a lifestyle really don’t matter. I have enough. I am warm, nourished, healthy, and I choose to focus on how I can be a better human in this world. How I can positively impact those around me and those to come. I am listening to a book about the longtermist perspective and find it makes more sense today than ever (What We Owe the Future by William MacAskill). I’d like to leave this world empty-handed, having given away what I had worked for. I’d also like to leave this world full-hearted, perhaps like Joey’s friend feeling that it’s the happiest moment of my life. I’d like to leave this world with lots and lots of people sharing wonderful stories of the positive impact I had on them. I choose to show up every day with kindness, love, humility, helping others where I can. Rising above my own hurts and being there for others. I’d like to think I’ve been doing that along the way. I know I can do better.