Although it is impossible to speak for everyone and to fully comprehend what intangible aspects all Americans and all human beings, for that matter, find important, there are many dynamics most people can all agree are meaningful components within each of our lives. Whether you are a man or a woman, black, Caucasian, Hispanic, Asian, Indian or Persian, there are qualities of life that at some point become important to us all. For instance, there will be a point in time, particularly as more and more years pass us by, when we will all too some degree or another find ourselves wanting to love and to be loved. We will begin to see the importance of being befriended as well as providing friendship. And in a similar vein, many of us will begin to feel the innate desire to procreate and pass our genes, wisdom and knowledge to another generation.
Still further, however, as the annual notches begin to appear one by one on the leather belt of life, other undercurrents can begin to “haunt” universal man on a more personal level. Why am/was I on this earth? Have I made the most of my time here with the talents I’ve been given? How have I impacted those closest to me as well as those in my community? Relative to my own beliefs and according to my own definitions, have I been “successful”?
If you’re a 23-year-old individual, perhaps you can’t relate to many of the ponderings I’ve just brought up, but rest assured that if you have any self-awareness in this life, there will come a time when you will. By now you may be asking yourself, “What the hell is he babbling about?” So far this column is very dissimilar to my usual ramblings; so I’ll just get to the point. I’ll be 40 next month! FORTY! I can’t get that number or that fact out of my head. Some would call that obsession the beginning of a midlife crisis; others would chuckle and tell me I’m still a pup. I, however, am simply choosing to view this impending milestone as a call to realization, a call to take some inventory. It is at this point I think I’ve chosen to ask the question the overwhelming majority of humanity will have to answer at some point during their lives, which is, “What will my legacy be?”
How will I be remembered – and not just by an impersonal public, but by my family, close friends and those in my local community I depend on and who depend on me? I’m not sure there is a more important question any of us can ask ourselves. What will the sentiments be as my eulogy is being given – and perhaps more importantly, what will the character of the stories be in the following months as my friends, family, etc. gather for the holidays or perhaps a football game and my name is mentioned? Will there be smiles and warmhearted accounts, or will memories of me garner a different tone. The theme and subject matter of these accounts is the definition of one’s legacy.
Why am I discussing this topic today? As I’ve said, 40 has woken me up a bit, but it goes beyond that. I was fortunate enough to attend the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame induction ceremony in Cooperstown, New York, late last month and watch as three friends and former teammates completed a life’s journey. I listened to several induction speeches, all of which were very different with the exception of one consistent component. Each man who was in his final hour of a life-long trek spoke of memories of the very first day in a professional uniform, never dreaming it would all end on a Hall of Fame podium in Cooperstown. No doubt that the years leading up to that final day has created a powerful legacy for each one of those men.
During my time at induction weekend, I spent hours walking through the archives at the Hall of Fame Museum witnessing the enshrined legacy of men such as Honus Wagner, Lou Gerhig and Mickey Mantle. I was overcome with emotions I can’t even describe when I got to hold a pair of Ty Cobb’s game worn pants still stained with dirt from a 1920s diamond. Now that’s a pretty powerful legacy, not to entirely overshadow, however, the personal interaction I had with many of the past generation’s icons like Bob Gibson, Sandy Kofax and Mike Schmidt. Although I’m on the precipice of 40, I felt like a 10-year-old on Christmas morning.
But the highlight of my once-in-a-lifetime weekend wasn’t the private tour through the Hall of Fame archives; it wasn’t having dinner with George Brett; and it wasn’t seeing my old teammates be welcomed into the family of baseball royalty. What I will remember most about that weekend was the opportunities I had to sit around with long-lost baseball friends over a beer and tell stories of our buddies from years ago, a few of whom aren’t with us anymore. What I will remember most about my Hall of Fame weekend is the occasion I had to reminisce about a joke once told by a dear friend and former teammate, John LeRoy (RIP), or a gag that our one-time strength coach Frank Fultz played on Dave Justice during spring training, or the celebration after clinching one of those many pennants. That is what I will remember the most. Those stories are part of the legacy those men have left behind.
Perhaps the term “legacy” and what that word means to each of us according to our own definition is best summed up by the poet Maya Angelou: “… people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” For the overwhelming majority of us, our legacy will not consist of Hall of Fame caliber accolades. The ability we all have, however, to impact our community and those closest to us in a positive, meaningful way is the only legacy we should ever need or want.
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