The exciting adventures of the Hillson family.

The exciting adventures of the Hillson family.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Leaving a Legacy

Chester watching Jorma & I get Married.
Tuesday night, we got the news that Jorma and Johnni's grandfather, Chester, had passed away from a massive heart attack.  Unexpected.

While family relationships have been sometimes strained, and I didn't have a close relationship with Chester, a death in the family always causes repercussions; the news, the emotions, and difficult interactions ripple out to the outer reaches of the family, spilling over into their personal and professional lives.  We don't even realize how far the effects of our family's tragedies can reach.  I'm not talking about the--pardon my lacking vocabulary--"simple" effect a death has on the individuals of a family.  Obviously there will be sadness.  Obviously there will be regrets and wishes for second chances.  But the greater repercussions we don't realize are the ways in which we affect the world around us and the way our legacy will continue to evoke change in ways we never could have imagined.

When my dad's father died in 2003, I was a freshman in high school, and Dad was my basketball coach.  Grandpa Leonard was an avid athlete and educator.  He lettered in basketball, football and track when he played for Oregon State University in 1945, and he was a constant supporter of my academic, cultural, social, and athletic pursuits.  The last time I saw him, he was cheering me on at a basketball tournament.  He died mid-season, the season my team went on to win the state title. 

During that season, my entire team felt the effect of my grandfather's death.  Both through my dad's coaching and my game, my grandfather's legacy was carried out.  I remember a specific game when we were playing our rivals, and we were up by a comfortable margin at half-time; we tromped to the locker room for a pep-talk, talking loosely, laughing, feeling confident in our ability to win.  Once we'd sat down, I could feel the quiet fury of my father building as he stepped up to address the team.  He started telling us a story about a time in high school when he was throwing the discus in a competition.  He had already beat all of his opponents by far--in two of his three throws--and he was content to not take his final attempt because he'd already won.  When my grandfather realized the choice my dad was about to make, he pushed him to the ground and reminded him forcefully that it didn't matter if he'd already won--he needed to do the best he could.  He instilled the idea in my father that it's not our opponents that matter, but that we also need to compete against ourselves to be the best we can be.  My dad got up, took his final throw, and PR'd (threw a new personal record).  At that moment, in the locker room at Dufur High School, the warmth of contentment slowly seeped away from our team, and a new fire was ignited.  From then on, our season and our team was focused on being the best team we could be. 

My grandfather's legacy went so much further than he could have imagined.  When he was playing, teaching, and parenting, how could he have ever known that the lessons he taught his son would trickle down to a 1A girls basketball team in eastern Oregon?  The 12 South Wasco County players who were in the locker room that day have a memory of Leonard, and their drive to win, their journey to a state title and to other successes in life, has been partially shaped by an ideal Leonard taught his son decades ago at a high school track meet.  Now those 12 women are out in the world parenting, working, competing, and living a life that was touched--even if for a moment--by my grandfather.  We just never know how our legacy will affect the world. 

As I'm writing this post, a song I know very well is going through my head.  I didn't plan on writing about the lyrics of this song, but as I'm singing it to myself, I feel like it's a great addition.  In the song "Legacy," Nichole Nordeman sings:

I won't lie, it feels alright to see your name in lights
We all need an "atta boy" or "atta girl"
But in the end I'd like to hang my hat on more besides
The temporary trappings of this world 

The song reminds me of the distraction of being recognized for my accomplishments and my own contentment and satisfaction with the approval of the people around me.  It can be so satisfying to know or hear that others think you're great, or that you're good at something, or even that they envy you, your possessions or your accomplishments.  But those aren't really the types of things that actually matter when it's all said and done; those aren't the things we can "hang our hats on."  The chorus of the song continues:

I want to leave a legacy
How will they remember me?
Did I choose to love?
Did I point to You enough
To make a mark on things
I want to leave an offering
A child of mercy and grace
Who blessed Your name unapologetically
And leave that kind of legacy

The "You" in this song refers to God, and by my personal faith, I believe that relying on God is what gets me away from dwelling on the material, superficial, unimportant things in my life and helps me focus on serving other people .  Whether or not you believe in God, I think there is an important lesson for everyone in what I'm talking about and even in the lyrics of the song.  If we can ask ourselves the question, "How will they remember me," ("they" being the people in our lives), we can reflect on how we are devoting our lives to the important things.  Are we focusing on money, or are we focused on serving others?  Are we focused on accumulating treasures, or are we focused on nurturing relationships?  In asking myself these questions, I hope I can say that people will remember me for the service I've given God and the service I've given others.  I hope to be remembered as someone who loved everyone and took time to care, foster relationships, and help provide for the needs of others.  How will you be remembered?

(This is a link to another posting I wrote in reflection of my Grandpa Leonard's life:  "Leonard's Overalls").

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