A friend visited recently whom I’ve known since college. She told me that she’s trying to determine what to do with the next 30 years, or, the last third of her life. I said that we could write off the last ten years of life to dementia or poor health. “Two ninths” she responded. “So we have 2/9th’s left,” I teared up. From laughter? Or, was it despair?
My friend is a math teacher so it is natural for her to think of legacy in terms of numbers. In the musical “Hamilton”, it stuck with me that Hamilton’s wife Eliza lived for “another fifty years” after her husband’s death. Did Hamilton’s death make her a 50/50? After Hamilton’s death she went on to painstakingly tell and keep his story alive, raise funds for the Washington Monument, speak out against slavery and establish an orphanage in New York City.
In December 2015, Gord Downie, the lead singer and lyricist for the Canadian band Tragically Hip was diagnosed with glioblastoma, an aggressive brain tumor. He died in October 2017 from a disease that gradually erased his memory. In the last year of his life, he released a solo album to bring attention to the government policy that sent Canadian children from indigenous families to abusive, state-funded residential schools from the 19th century until the 1970’s. Downie’s Secret Path project became his Legacy Project, to make people aware of this tragic aspect of his country’s history. Apparently, Downie had not known about the schools or treatment of aboriginal children prior to his diagnosis. He chose thoughtfully about how he wanted to spend his remaining life. What was his legacy fraction, 1/26? He died at 52.
Read the complete Legacy blog by Caroline Steelberg here.