Legacies are All We Have Forever

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Our lives begins to end the day we grow silent about things that matter. — Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Nonviolent resistance, the cornerstone of Martin Luther King Jr.’s legacy, is a powerful resource we can all practice. January 15 marks his 86th birthday. In his honor, it’s worth thinking about what we can change by lending peaceful actions and words to the things that matter to us.

There are endless issues needing attention from equal rights and the environment to sensible gun control and the unfriendly political personality. We don’t have to argue or blog or Facebook or Tweet. We can show our kids, nieces, nephews and grandchildren what matters by example.

We can choose not to buy them guns to play with, and we can share our doggie bags with the hungry. We can pick litter from the sidewalk and put it in the garbage. We can hang our voting receipt on the refrigerator. We can treat each other respectfully, even if it’s not returned.

Children are sponges so they’ll pick up on what we do as long as we’re consistent. Then, when we can talk to them about weighty matters we have validity. The one or the many little things we’ve chosen to do or not to and the kind words we’ve chosen to say day after day earn us credibility, perhaps the most powerful tool.

Building a legacy begins when we start to care about others. The Montgomery, AL, bus boycott King led in 1955 went on for 381 days before the Supreme Court ruled that segregation on transportation was illegal.

In 1963 he was part of the March on Washington, bringing a quarter of a million people to the National Mall in Washington, D.C, to shine a light on the lack of civil rights, jobs and freedom. He had a dream and he told the world about it.

In 1964, at the age of 35, Martin Luther King, Jr. received the Noble Peace Prize. In his acceptance speech he said,

“I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word in reality. This is why right temporarily defeated is stronger than evil triumphant.”

In the same year, Congress passed the Civil Rights Act, making it illegal to discriminate against blacks or other minorities in hiring, public accommodations, education or transportation.

And he had only just begun. In 1965 he led thousands from Selma to Montgomery, AL, in a nonviolent march for voting rights. They were brutalized by law enforcement every step of the 54-mile route. When marchers tried to cross the Edmund Pettus Bridge through Selma, state troopers on horses attacked them. They were threatened by a restraining order to disband before trying again. Faced with ignoring a pending court order, King led 2000-strong nonviolent marchers again to the bridge and when confronted once more by troopers, the marchers got on their knees to pray then turned around and marched back to Selma. Six months later President Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

In 1968 he was gunned down on his motel room balcony in Memphis, TN, where he was protesting on behalf of striking city garbage workers.

You can choose not to rally thousands and still create change. The courage of your convictions makes a difference in your world every day. Every little person in your life looks up to you in every sense of the word. Think about using your words and actions for the greater good. There’s nothing to lose.

Happy New Year

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With my laptop starting the new year getting tuned up and ready for a 2nd semester at the Writers Studio, this post will be short and–thanks to a couple of beautiful grandchildren–sweet.

To all my friends and family, a happy and healthy 2015. I love you all more than any words I can adequately line up could express. For now at least…:)

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The Endless Gift from Birthdays

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My granddaughter Caitlin turned 7 last week. The same week she started first grade. I’m not sure if physicists simply are keeping it on the QT, but unquestionably the world is spinning faster than ever. No way are there a full 365 days in a year anymore; time flies by way too fast to follow the traditional 12-month calendar.

Last week we celebrated at Wrigley Field. My daughter Jill and her husband outdid themselves. They treated us all to the Cub’s game. My stemanriques@wrigleypson and his three awesome kids joined us. My beautiful niece Nikki, her husband, their youngest daughter who looks so much like her mother that I still have goosebumps, and their son who’s six-months younger than Caitlin, came quite the distance to be there. Grandma and Grandpa G and Uncle Joey were there too. Our youngest daughter and her beau weren’t Cait:Avabecause I’m convinced they’re on a mission to redefine Type-A tendencies to the point wjason:brynleehere those of us who have them look like slackers. But that’s for another post.

We grabbed some pizza  and cake afterwards, and I’m sure we were all passed out before the 10 pm news.

But, as my avid readers know, my daughters are rock stars, so today Jill took Cait and four other little princesses for mani-pedis and then dinner at California Pizza Kitchen. We always had great birthday parties for our girls. Jill’s outdone us already. But I don’t believe it’s a competitive thing. Last weekend was family, and I think Cait caitmanipediwas fine with just that. But I know my daughters, and I can imagine Jill deciding Caitlin had to have a celebration with her friends, and that’s what they did this afternoon.

Having children is a lesson on the infinite nature of love. I felt it for Jill. When I was pregnant with Jackie, I was actually scared I wouldn’t have enough love left. How absurd does that sound? And how exhilarating to learn love is infinite. But as the years pass, we’re tired and frantic trying to raise a family successfully, pay bills, and those love lessons get lost in the chaos. Then along come grandchildren. My love for Caitlin reminds me of the love I have for my daughters and overwhelms me all over again. I love Nikki and her children, Chris and his kids just as much. I simply just don’t have the opportunity to spend as much time with them.

That has to change. This gift of infinite love is nothing to recall occasionally. It’s something we must revel in every moment and every opportunity. The value in and beauty of life exists in that which all the money and success can’t buy. It comes from a heart with the ability to contain inexhaustible compassion.

You Know, We’re Just Passing Through

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In the history of the universe, or at least the galaxy as we perceive it, we’re molecules hurtling in and then out of life in a blink. Sure we’re a big part of the world to family, friends and others we interact with. But on a planet of over 7 billion, only a relative handful remain internationally renown for centuries, and that takes into consideration cave paintings and Gutenberg’s press, which allowed us to communicate fame and infamy in the modern world.

No immediate family remain who were the center of my universe when I began my journey. Thankfully there’s extended family I rely on. Still, I work hard to keep my original family alive in my heart and memory because they continue impacting my life. I wish the family I created could know the ones responsible for me. Maybe because of the Depression and World War II, my grandparents and parents seized their days so meaningfully. They’re often called the Greatest Generation, and the title is well-earned from my perspective. Acutely aware of the past, they nonetheless lived and reveled in the moment. I remember them partying, dancing and celebrating with gusto while working hard to create a better world for those they brought into it.

What strikes me more as the years pass was their selflessness. I learned of incredible sacrifices they made, rarely through their admission but from others. I’m talking about single decisions that were daily life-altering acts of kindness and compassion done because they were the right thing to do, no matter the hardships or lifelong consequences. I’m not talking about the courageous men and women who defend our country every day, rather regular people like my mom and grandmother who lived together in a studio apartment during The War. For as long as I remember, they each recalled what sound like desperate days as some of the greatest of their lives. My grandma remembered food lines. My mom, graduating high school and losing all the boys to the war. But their stories were of perseverance and making the most out of horrible situations. It wasn’t sacrifice then; it was life.

That doesn’t seem as commonplace today. We weigh decisions that might impact our life more heavily. Many seem to have surrendered the greater good for their own. Look no further than our country’s political dysfunction. Locally and globally, think about the hardships of the masses, be it economic or health-related, and the apathy and even open hostility toward those suffering. There’s famine, genocide, disease, environmental chaos—all sorts of atrocities happening among the 7 billion around the globe, and it feels like finger-pointing and victim-blaming trump humanity. The bigotry, racism, entitlement, insensitivity and downright viciousness that flood news cycles leaves me sad and disappointed.

My point? We are just passing through, and I think we should find out why and pursue it with the same zeal as my parents and so many of the Greatest Generation. Our passions and making the most of what we have are the greatest motivators. Following them make us better friends, parents, colleagues. They make us better human beings because we’re happier doing what we love. More important―call me naive―I believe we’re happier when we’re doing the right thing. It’s easy to be a cynic, complain, pass judgment on others as if we’re the standard to which others should hope to become. Despite what we may believe, we’re not going to remain top-of-mind to others very long. Gutenberg, Edison, and other inspirational, religious, political and humanitarian icons are the exceptions.

It’s rare to leave a lasting mark on the world once we’ve passed through, and even harder when those who remember us join us wherever we end up when we complete this life. Maybe we can’t change the world, but we can make our small piece of it safer, kinder and even happier by appreciating what we have and the uniqueness of those around us. What’s to lose by giving it a shot?