How They Remember You

I swear it’s unintentional, but I’m starting to feel like a Country DJ.

Between the ‘Live Like You Were Dying’ post, and the ‘Buy Dirt’ post, and now the ‘How They Remember You’ post, I’m really starting to be concerned about jeopardizing my 80’s Rock street cred. 🙂

Funny aside: I was like seven years old before I realized there were other options on the radio besides Country stations. All the radios in our house and cars all played the same music. I assumed you just bought radios and cars and other equipment pre-programmed with your music choice. Who knew?

Anyway, the song hits me with real questions… “Did you quit or did you try? Live your dreams or let ’em die? What did you choose?”

As well as providing a real challenge… “You’re gonna leave a legacy, no matter what you do. It ain’t a question of if they will, it’s how they remember you.”

This past weekend was my high school class reunion, Columbia River HS – class of ’82. I prefer to call it the Fourth Iteration of our 10-year reunion (because a 40-year reunion is for old people). 🙂

By the way, Once a Chieftain, Always a Chieftain!

A little backstory. About six months ago, Melanie and I were in Arizona and we had a chance to catch up with some PNW friends, Ron and Dede (Dede is an ‘82 so she’s obviously great, and while I’ve always known Ron was an awesome guy, he had to marry an ‘82 to really be accepted). 🙂 Neither Dede nor I had heard anything about a reunion, so we decided we were going to make something happen. Well, that’s easy to talk about over tacos, but it wasn’t likely to happen in real life. With her being down there and my, uh, situation, the reality is that we were going to get nowhere real fast.

The folks who had worked on our reunions in the past had done a fantastic job (Rudy, Tracy… I’m looking at you!). But after the last one, they were burnt out – which is totally understandable, as it is a ton of work and, sadly, most of it is unrecognized and underappreciated. Unfortunately, it looked like there was not going to be a reunion this year.

Personally, I had been really looking forward to a reunion, because when you are living with a terminal illness you want to take advantage of every opportunity you have to connect with people. And in this case, I wanted to make sure I could say goodbyes to people I’ve known and loved for a long time. Obviously, thinking there was no reunion, I was pretty bummed.

Then, out of the blue, Darcy (Johnston) Hurst and Peggy (Bender) Walker stepped up – big time. I’m not privy to all the sordid details, but I hear there was a lot of wine tasting involved in the decision to take this on. Soon a Facebook group popped up. Then some guy built a cool website and registration portal and they were off and running. Paige (Gonzalez) Wilson jumped in to organize a golf tournament. Patty (Hollister) Bolton was there from the start. Missy (Dynes) York added her efforts to the task. And Doug Preuss even threatened to start attending committee meetings if we couldn’t pull this off (just kidding Doug, you made more meetings than I did). 🙂 We even attracted top-notch Hollywood talent to the cause, as Annie Price joined the fray. Peggy and Darcy had created this amazing group of people committed to bringing the reunion to life. I was geared up and ready to go!

Fast forward a few months. Over the course of the summer, my physical condition continued to deteriorate. As a progressive neurological disease, that’s how it is with ALS. No matter how active I was or how much I rested, my body continued to worsen each day. As it became more difficult to do the normal physical things that I had always done, and that normal people do with ease, I became somewhat apprehensive about attending the reunion.

Something that I was originally so excited about was now looming as a stark reminder of my physical issues and the person I felt I no longer was.

As the reunion date rapidly approached, I felt even more trepidation about attending. Would I even be able to stand and mingle at the event? What if I fell? It wouldn’t be the first time. Or what if I had some other unfortunate or embarrassing situation?

I lamented over the fear of leaving an image of the current me – somewhat falling apart at the seams – that would override the me that people had known and remembered from our days gone by.

I made the difficult, and very disappointing, decision that I was not going to attend the reunion.

Some of these people I have known for more than 50 years. Others I knew only for a brief time in high school. Regardless of the amount of time, we all shared this common bond and connection during some of the most formative years of our lives. As I thought about my decision to not attend, I began to think more about these people and less about my situation.

I never used to think much about Legacy… stuff like that was for down the road. I’d get to it, you know, later. Well, for me, unfortunately, later came earlier than I expected.

And when later comes early, everything changes. You reflect on life through a different lens, with a different perspective. You look at your past, and towards whatever future you have remaining, with more intensity, and with more appreciation.

It was in that reflection that I realized that I have been creating a legacy all along. Every day, with every connection, through every friendship, over all these years, I was building a lasting, durable image of who I was.

And for all those people, especially those I was closest to, the indelible image of who I was – built and bolstered over the years and through our shared experiences – would not be tarnished by time or impacted by my illness.

I decided my today, my right now, my time to connect and share with these people who were so important in my life, meant more to me than my concerns about what their final, fleeting image of me might be.

Whether I knew these people when I was 18 or 58, whether I was doing burnouts in my ’71 Camaro or slowly ambling along behind my 2022 Nitro Walker, I would endeavor to positively add to that legacy, my physical limitations notwithstanding.

With that belief, with this newfound vision, with that proper perspective, I changed my mind and decided to attend the reunion. I’m incredibly thankful I did.

Ultimately, my desire to create new memories, to reconnect with these people who meant so much to me over the years, and, most importantly, to say my goodbyes to these people I loved, was more powerful than my concerns about how I may have looked or any physical issues or limitations that may afflict me.

I decided that I still wanted to bring joy to each moment, create happiness in each activity, and share a love of this life that we are so incredibly blessed to have each and every day.

That’s all a person can do to make a positive impact on… How They Remember You.

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