The Legacy of a Life

“Let your very existence be your song, your poem, your story.
Let your very identity be your book.
Let the way people say your name sound like the sweetest melody.”
 ― Charlotte Eriksson*

The end of the year draws close. For some of us it’s a time to take inventory, to review the past year and look ahead to the new one. For others it’s marked a passage, an ending, hopefully to be followed by a new beginning. From Wikipedia:

In ancient Roman religion and mythJanus is the god of beginnings and transitions, and thereby of gates, doors, doorways, passages and endings. He is usually depicted as having two faces, since he looks to the future and to the past. It is conventionally thought that the month of January is named for Janus.”

As I’ve passed through the gateway of the Third Act of my life, I’ve become more introspective, and my journeys have more frequently been inward rather than outbound expeditions.  I’ve been on a spirit quest of sorts, seeking meaning to my life and wondering what my legacy will be. This has become timely in my consciousness since I’ve had to mourn the unexpected deaths of contemporaries and I anticipate the impending death of the generation that precedes me, including my beloved parents.

Earlier this year a respected work colleague, who was mentor to me, passed away unexpectedly on the eve of his daughter’s wedding and a few months before his retirement. Just this past week a member of our womyn’s community, ‎Daña Alder, died unexpectedly at the age of 66, the day after the Winter Solstice. Her memorial service is scheduled for January 5th, 2015 which would have been her 67th birthday.

Daña Alder

Daña Alder

These deaths, and family members of friends, celebrities, and victims of violence in the world who have died this past year, plus the growing awareness of my own mortality, has caused me to look at the preciousness and impermanence of life.  We are only promised today and it’s our job as stewards of our lives to live fully with integrity and hopefully without regret. We are asked to live authentically, make amends when required, to contribute to our community and help others who are less fortunate, and finally, leave a legacy to our survivors and future generations.

Coming Out on campus (not the first time).

Coming Out on Campus (not the first time).

Daña was not a close friend, yet she was someone I felt I knew intimately because of her openness and generous spirit.

She lived a life, from my perspective, that was authentic and congruent, her words and actions consistently matched, and as those of us in recovery remark, “She didn’t just talk the talk; she walked the walk.” I respected her and followed her frequent posts on Facebook. She was an avid reader, social commentator and activist, and generous contributor to our lesbian and womyn’s community in Madison, Wisconsin and elsewhere.

In examining Daña’s life, it’s clear from the response to her death, she was beloved by many.  We were surprised and unprepared by the news of her passing. This past Sunday, the Winter Solstice — an important day in her personal and spiritual beliefs — I had the privilege of spending the afternoon with her at our friend Patti’s home for a holiday cookie exchange, an opportunity to catch up with each other and celebrate the abundance of friendship in our lives.

Daña talked about how much she was enjoying retirement, that she was able to take better care of her health, swimming three or four days of the week at Capitol Lakes. Daña shared a story about her recent road trip to Colorado to support her sister during her knee surgery recovery and remarked how Chlöe was the best travel companion she could ask for, especially considering it was their first road trip together.

Daña & Chlöe  Photo Credit: Mary Pierce

Daña & Chloe
Photo Credit: Mary Pierce

So what is Daña’s legacy? For me, she’s an example of a life well-lived, someone who loved with an open heart and an open mind, yet was not afraid to take a stand for what she believed in; she gave more than she took and she was a mentor to and a leader of our community.  For those of us who will attend her memorial service, we will learn from each other’s stories, the gifts she shared with us — her legacy.

My favorite photo of Daña.  Photo Credit: BGM 1956

My favorite photo of Daña .
Photo Credit: BGM 1956

Daña’s Memorial Service

Oral History Interview: Daña Alder (1307), 1 of 1

*Charlotte Eriksson’s Poem

“… so this is for us.
This is for us who sing, write, dance, act, study, run and love
and this is for doing it even if no one will ever know
because the beauty is in the act of doing it.
Not what it can lead to.
This is for the times I lose myself while writing, singing, playing
and no one is around and they will never know
but I will forever remember
and that shines brighter than any praise or fame or glory I will ever have,
and this is for you who write or play or read or sing
by yourself with the light off and door closed
when the world is asleep and the stars are aligned
and maybe no one will ever hear it
or read your words
or know your thoughts
but it doesn’t make it less glorious.
It makes it ethereal. Mysterious.
For it belongs to you and whatever God or spirit you believe in
and only you can decide how much it meant
and means
and will forever mean
and other people will experience it too
through you.
Through your spirit. Through the way you talk.
Through the way you walk and love and laugh and care
and I never meant to write this long
but what I want to say is:
Don’t try to present your art by making other people read or hear or see or touch it; make them feel it. Wear your art like your heart on your sleeve and keep it alive by making people feel a little better. Feel a little lighter. Create art in order for yourself to become yourself
and let your very existence be your song, your poem, your story.
Let your very identity be your book.
Let the way people say your name sound like the sweetest melody.

So go create. Take photographs in the wood, run alone in the rain and sing your heart out high up on a mountain
where no one will ever hear
and your very existence will be the most hypnotising scar.
Make your life be your art
and you will never be forgotten.”

Additional Reading About the Legacy of a Life

From Mixed Metaphors, Oh My!

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