“The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated,” said Mark Twain, upon hearing that an American newspaper had printed his obituary while he was still very much alive. That same strange feeling overcame me when I was asked to write my own death notice for my first journalism assignment at West Virginia University.
It made me stop and think. What do I want to remembered for? What do I hope people will say about me when I am gone? What will my legacy in this life be?
Vanity license plates make me laugh as I consider what mine might say – “B-Z- Mom,” would have been apropos for many years of my life as I worked a full-time, high-level, demanding professional job; raised a daughter; visited and engaged my ailing mother whenever I was not working; and volunteered for many worthy organizations. “Worker Bee”; “Jewish Mother”; and “Happy Life” are a few others that come to mind.
But it is not what I did that I wish to be remembered for. It is who I am and the difference I have made in the lives of people in my life. The one word that I wish to be written on my tombstone is “LOVE”. I aspire to be like the woman I admire most in this world, Mother Teresa, who said, “Love is the reason for my life.”
It is sad that many people never consider what their legacy will be. The reason, I think, is that no one wants to think about their death. “Everyone knows they are going to die, but nobody believes it. If we did, we would do things differently,” said Morrie in the classic book, “Tuesdays with Morrie”.
High school students love this book because it evokes real conversations about life … and death … and all that happens in between. Instead, however, they (like all of us in this country) are bombarded with meaningless messages of “Breaking News” of celebrity events and break-ups.
Older adults in our society are generally not valued and history is re-written to meet the whims of modern culture. Families are shattered and put back together in configurations almost impossible to imagine. We all need to belong, but most wander from job to job, relationship to relationship, and city to city. Institutions have failed us, as has government, and many of the people in our lives. There never really were “the good ole days,” but, at least past generations attempted to hold some things in high regard – family, faith, the future of our country. But most of that – and even the discussion of it – is gone and my heart weeps.
A rare exception took place at the Kent (Ohio) City Schools Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony in April 2018 when several school alumni returned to their hometown to be honored. The alumni spoke to an assembly of junior and senior high school students and each graduate thanked the teachers, staff and others who had helped shape and impact their lives. Their clarion call was clear: . . . “Embrace and value not only the excellent education you are receiving, but appreciate the many people who are helping to make it happen. Look what I have achieved so that you can do the same. Live your life with purpose and see what you can become.”
I was truly impressed by the words of Dr. Danita Brown Young, a dear family friend of tremendous academic, professional and personal stature, whom I nominated and who was selected for this prestigious honor. She said,
“Serve with intensity, speak with integrity, give with generosity, and succeed with humility.”
My hope and prayer is that this message will resonate deeply in the students’ hearts as they learn that life is filled with choices and that there are genuinely caring people in this world who wish to help navigate the treacherous waters they face.
If they do, they will establish a legacy of a life well lived. Or, as Morrie said, “To know you’re going to die and be prepared for it at any time. That’s better. That way you can be actually more involved in your life while living.”
The family of Dr. Danita Brown Young has been an important part of her success in life. With Danita at the Kent City Schools Hall of Fame Dinner and Induction Ceremony are (from left to right) husband, John A Young, II; Danita; parents Eleta and Harold Brown; and brother and sister-in-law Michael and Rosanna Brown.