Today’s blog is from a fellow sojourner, Gary Hermes. He is an 80-year old resident of Sonoma Oaks Manufactured Home Community, in Sonoma Valley, California and is passionate about exploring the potential of the aging journey for self-growth and service. He can be reached at GaryDHermes@comcast.net or (707) 227-6935. I encourage you to contact him — you will find him stimulating, thought provoking, and helpful.
Gary brings special understanding to what it means to age in the 21st Century as a gay man. He is an ambassador for the LGBTQ community here, and educates and illuminates the challenges faced by aging LGBTQ individuals through his teaching “Aging Gayfully”. He has kindly agreed to let me publish this essay on legacy he wrote in March, 2019. Enjoy!
James Kilroy was a rivet inspector in a ship-building yard during World War II. To make sure his supervisors knew he was doing his job, he left his unique mark in each area that he had inspected. The cartoonish image quickly caught on and for many years afterwards became a popular icon for graffiti.
Many of us, when we were filled with youthful ambition, were eager to “leave our mark” on the world. Now, as we approach the end of life, we may begin to wonder, did we really make a difference, and, if so, what can we point to as our legacy?
It is true that some people leave obvious legacies – ambitious accomplishments or generous bequests. Buildings or parks or charitable organizations may be named in their honor.
However, my feeling is that legacies aren’t always about grand gestures. Much like putting your hand in wet cement leaves a lasting impression, our lives continue to influence others long after we are gone. Just think of someone whose modest life inspired or influenced you … a partner or spouse, a teacher, a grandparent or a friend. It might even be a writer’s fictional character in a book or movie. That was their legacy.
A few months after the horrendous October, 2017 fires, I joined a nature walk to learn how our beautiful Valley was responding. I learned that every tree and plant was playing a role in the restoration process … including the ones that did not survive! Animals leave legacies too! Those of us who continue to miss pets who died long ago gratefully remember the impact their unique personalities had on us.
The example we set by simply living our lives is our legacy. Every kind word or smile we share with another is part of our legacy. Every time we honor and affirm someone else merely by our willingness to listen to them is part of our legacy. You are creating your legacy every day in humble yet profound ways!
FIVE PILLARS OF AGING
Our parents and grandparents encountered catastrophic events during their lifetimes. They lived through World Wars, racial and political persecution, famine, drought, economic collapse, and disease. Out of their struggles, many developed strategies of resilience that have been passed down as legacy. Some of these legacies involved stories of how they overcame obstacles, lived through unspeakable events, found ways to create beauty and joy out of suffering and deprivation or persecution. Some of these legacies resulted in establishing groups and institutions committed to protecting others from having to experience similar trauma.
It is worth the time and effort to explore these legacies with your parents or grandparents who remain. If they are no longer with you, then exploring their lives through accounts from contemporaries, reading letters and books, seeking out information from newspapers and newsreels can be invaluable to better understand the how and why of the decisions you have made during your life. It is also foundational to finding different ways to do things as you break new ground and follow your path of aging.