Legacy Unfolding

It’s October 2019, and while I move through these days full of what is happening NOW, I am also moving through the echo of October 2018 and what was happening THEN. It’s the anniversary of my father’s final weeks of illness, what I call his discomfort and departure. Of course, when we were living it we didn’t know what was happening from day to day: was he recovering? Going home? Staying in care? Dying? Anyone who has been through this journey themselves or with loved ones knows the incredible ambiguity of such times, and knows the anniversary of litany… a year ago today we were…

Walking the whole way together.

October 1, 2018 I walked with my father into the ER at our local hospital.

October 1, 2019, Island Senior Resources (ISR) launched the renaming and redesign of Bayview Senior Center dining site into an intergenerational café to be called Leo’s Place.

 

 

My father was well-suited to village life and his twelve years in Langley, WA, ten miles down the road from our house, were, I think, among the most satisfying of his life. He understood how to make an impact at the scale of the place he inhabited: in his mid-80s to late-90s, he inhabited Langley, population 1000, in semi-rural South Whidbey Island.

He bought a condo, furnished it with thrift store furniture and focused outward on making community and being of service. He contributed to several island organizations that most directly used the skills of a lifetime he brought with him: the Langley Methodist Church, Saratoga Community Housing, and Island Senior Resources.

He’d been care-giving to his second wife and pretty much declared he was done with cooking and tending. He found the senior service lunch-site down the hill in Brookhaven, and between that and the senior center up the road by the highway, ate happily from that menu, lingered to make friends and acquaintances, and played countless games of cribbage and Quiddler, and supervised jigsaw puzzles.

He was a walking conversation starter with a knack for playful engagement with anyone who passed his way. In his honor, ISR is reaching out to the community to foster intergenerational dining and community experiences. The invite reads “Leo’s Place is

The launch on October 1.

your place, come make it your own.”  I call it the “single shot café’—there’s only one item on the menu, but it is fresh, nutritious and the best bargain for hot lunch on the island.

 

In the last weeks of his life, hours in the hospital with CNN on mute, he and I talked about the values he hoped he left behind. I named these concepts: “Leo’s Village Essentials.” This list was handed out at his memorial in November, at the family reunion this July, and with my permission is now being branded by ISR as part of its outreach. I see it posted on the walls of his favorite coffeehouse, on folks’ refrigerator doors, and online. And—here in the blog.

All this he could not have imagined. I think he would be surprised, humbled,  and quietly pleased about the attention to his thoughts. He was 98 years old and still contributing. Watching this happen raises my curiosity about the nature of legacy.

I am in the midst of writing a novel that I see as a legacy piece of work. My previous books are also legacies, in that they stay in print (thank you dear publishers!) even when the sales figures are low. They have lives of their own that I know little or nothing about. Over the decades I have put out a body of work that I assume is “legacy,” and yet—something little, like “Village Essentials,” or The Seven Whispers, may be the most long-lasting gifts. I don’t know.

I invite those of us in mid-life and elderhood to consider several things about this issue of legacy.

  1. Legacy isn’t just what you want to put into the world, or what you consider your most significant “piece of work or wisdom”—it’s also about what the world needs. Legacy is what the reader or the listener needs, what the community needs, what your children and grandchildren need.
  2. Legacy is an offering: a deposit without judgmentalism or opinionating. Legacy is flower petals floating in water for the next passerby to appreciate—or not—and to reinterpret as they need. You put it out there in beauty and you let it go.
  3. Legacy emerges from all age groups: listen for wisdom from everywhere. I watch amazed at what Greta Thunberg and other young social awakeners are depositing in the world right now… so much straightforward, impassioned challenge dedicated to igniting other generational cohorts to join them—they’ve ignited my grandmother self, that I know.
  4. We honor one another’s legacies by “naming the lineage.” Keeping the source of something alive and attached fosters our sense of relationship to it. When we claim relationship to a guiding principle or saying it rides more deeply in our thoughts and behavior. Leo’s Village Essentials is different than saying “the” Village Essentials. Even when many people will not know “Leo,” it identifies these words as coming from someone. It makes them personal: a gift from one person to another. The words didn’t just appear, they belong; and in reciting them: we belong. Lineage is a circle: it encompasses and holds us and helps us take place.

This desire to establish relationship is so strong we give attribute to words that guide us even when we’re not sure of source. The Golden Rule is a great example. Jesus said it: but he was quoting Leviticus. And the Rule, which articulates the principle of reciprocity, goes back to Confucius (551 BCE) and before that to the Code of Hammurabi, and is embedded as a core ethic in every major religious and ethical tradition. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” is essential human wisdom. It doesn’t matter who said it: it matters that we remember it, relate to it, and practice it. Especially, practice it.

Iconic identifiers arranged on the sill of his final room.

Legacy is not up to us: legacy is a decision made by those who go on. Our job is to keep depositing the best of ourselves in as many ways as we can, for as long as we can, and to lay down at the end of our lives entrusting the mystery.

 

19 replies
  1. Gretchen Staebler
    Gretchen Staebler says:

    What a gift the two of you were to each other, and continue to be to all of us who are lucky enough to know you; and to those who haven’t been privileged to meet you face to face, but benefit still from your wisdom and care. Love to you, dear Christina.

    Reply
  2. Diane Tilstra
    Diane Tilstra says:

    What a beautiful tribute to a life well-lived. The world needs this kind of male modeling. A man of decency, morality, honesty and compassion. It really makes my heart full to read about Leo Baldwin. He demonstrates that we all have purpose and we need each other to fulfill it. Thank you to Leo’s spirit.

    Reply
  3. James Wells
    James Wells says:

    Leo’s Village Essentials, seven phrases of grounded wisdom that walk hand-in-hand with another seven phrases of grounded wisdom. Such a nourishing harvest. Thank you both. <3

    Reply
  4. Roswitha
    Roswitha says:

    Dearest Christina, thank you for sharing the Village Essentials. While reading them I hear and see Leo. Thank you, Leo, for this wonderful gift. And what a wonderful story of renaming. Leos place on earth while he is in heaven. With Love Roswitha

    Reply
  5. Meredith Jordan
    Meredith Jordan says:

    Dear Christina:

    Beautiful words that go to the heart, which Leo would have encouraged and loved. Thank you.

    much love,
    Meredith

    Reply
  6. Karyl Howard
    Karyl Howard says:

    Oh, Christina, thank you for sharing this. The “right” words are just not coming to me because this touches my heart a little more than it touches my brain. May your father’s life continue to be a blessing to you, your family, his friends and the rest of us.

    Reply
  7. Bonnie Rae
    Bonnie Rae says:

    I would love to have met him. I’d like to think there is a “next place” that has some equivalent of a coffee shop because I can imagine your 98 year old loved Baldwin is sharing tales and a good cup of coffee with MY 98 year old loved Baldwin. I look forward to seeing you in the Spring and having a chat about these two amazing men ♡ What a wonderful legacy he left. 

    Reply
  8. Glenn
    Glenn says:

    Thank you for the sweet sharing, Christina. Yes, it’s all about relationship, which is to say, the heart.

    Just a few days ago was my mom’s birthday, and the feeling/relationship was strong. It would have been her 100th; she passed at 93.

    Reply
  9. Jeanie Robinson
    Jeanie Robinson says:

    Christina, this ignites some deep warmth in me… small town roots, memories of my own parents who lived Leo’s village essentials. n fact my dad would be close in age to Leo, having been born on Jan 2, 1920. Jeanie
    Thanks for jogging me to the legacy motivator—

    Reply
  10. THAVA GOVENDER
    THAVA GOVENDER says:

    Your story resonates in me as l too lost my feisty 93 year old mum in August 2019.Thank you for sharing Leo’s legacy.May his legacy live on in all that you do.

    Reply
  11. Cynthia Trowbridge
    Cynthia Trowbridge says:

    Leo and my father would have been great friends. They shared a generosity of spirit and action. Dad would have been 100 on October 14th. Unfortunately, he left us when he was only 68, but his legacy has lived on in the lives of each of his three daughters. I plan to celebrate his 100th as he remains so present in my life.
    I am deeply grateful to have served on the ISR Board with Leo. His twinkling eyes and sweet smile always reminded me of Dad.

    Reply

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