Sunday, September 20, 2015

Will I Leave A Mark?

I think everyone asks that question when they get to be my age. Especially if that person is a man. I believe that, for whatever reason, men seem to have a need to leave something behind; something that says, “I was here.” In my estimation, that burden becomes heavier as we grow older. When we are young, the necessity to point to a noteworthy accomplishment that defines us or our place in this world—or in Time—takes on a sense of urgency as we grow old. If we have never achieved the stature of President, or Astronaut, or Olympian; if the likelihood our names will never be etched in remembrance, or spoken with reverence, or inked on a scroll or parchment preserved against the decay of Time, the anxiety of meeting our Maker without leaving a Mark other than the Headstone on our grave can be very real.

There is no scientific proof, of course, that The Creator, in all His profound wisdom, scribbled somewhere in our double-helix chain, a message, or a directive if you will, instructing us to leave something for the generations that follow. Still, the day comes when we wake up to realize that we have fewer sunrises in front of us, than behind us. We become a bit more aware of our own mortality. We tend to look back on our lives and take stock, and some of us may find the inventory, disappointing.

I remember talking with my son one day after he himself became a father, about personal achievements and making a Mark in this life—about the things we leave behind. I told him the one thing I was leaving that I was most proud of, my “Mark” in life, was his sister and him. Your children, should you be lucky enough to have them, are your legacy, a gift given to you by God; and to my reckoning, the best and most important Mark any man could ever leave, hopefully making this world a better place in the interim.

I chose to write about this because of a birthday, not because I’m feeling particularly morose. A close friend of mine turned seventy a little while back. He was the piano player in a band I joined when I was sixteen. He was twenty-one then. I remember clearly because he and one or two other band members were old enough to buy beer. I had lost touch with the guys in that band over the years, but managed to get back in touch with the core members about two years ago. When we got together, I brought my photo album and we reminisced for quite a long time.

Don's wife invited some of his friends for a small surprise party. I found it unusual that she picked a Sunday afternoon, until I asked why.

“He’ll be at church till 1:30.”

I had forgotten Don was the organist for his church, and had been ever since I’d known him. Seems he played two services now. When I realized that Don had turned seventy, and that he had maintained his station in his church, I took a long look at my own life.

I wrote a book. I was old when I did. Other than my kids, I suppose that’s my Mark, the thing I leave behind to say I was here. The funny part is, I used a pseudonym instead of my given name. How’s that for irony? Someone told me that writing a book is more than most people ever do. That may be true, but thinking about something that Don said at his party made me realize that the things we leave behind, the Marks we make in life, are not so much accomplishments, as they are the memories of those accomplishments: slices of life, frozen in time, substantial in their importance both good and bad, stored away for others to remember us by. As I think about my own memories, I find the good vastly overshadow the bad, to the point that I dismiss the bad offhand, realizing that they were never of any real importance, anyway.                  
As most men frequently are, I found myself at a loss in choosing a gift to give my friend Don. What do you give a man, who’s been on this earth for seventy years, that he could actually take a bit of joy in?

I decided on a memory.  

The Playmates - Circa 1966

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