Thursday, December 28, 2006

The Legacy of An Oregon Poet Extraordinaire

I met Oregon poet William Stafford several years ago at a men's gathering in Portland. Robert Bly had invited him to join us for an afternoon. Seeing and hearing the two poets read their poems together was quite the scene in a room crowded with over 100 men ranging in age from early 20's to late 70's. That day was the beginning of my love for the poetry of the greatest poet Oregon has ever had (in my humble opinion).

Over the years, I've read most all of Stafford's poems as well as several books about him and his work. After his death, I joined Friends of William Stafford and have participated in a number of readings done locally each year on the occasion of his birthday in January. (NOTE: The birthday reading in Eugene will be on Sunday, Jan. 28 at Tsunami Books for 2 - 4 p.m.).

In the current newsletter from Friends, I came across Stafford's "The Way It Is" poem (from his book by the same name) which is one of my favorites. The poem was recently inscribed in a stone placed in the new Stafford Commons (2nd Ave. & B St.) in the poet's adopted home town of Lake Oswego, Oregon. Here's a link to the short poem:

The Way It Is -- William Stafford

Are you aware of the "thread" in your life? Is it at the heart of your life legacy? Something to ponder during this new year ... and the rest of your life.

May you be blessed in 2007 with life experiences that create the legacy you desire!
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Wednesday, December 27, 2006

The Memory Book Project

A good friend of mine passed along a book he received that he thought would make a worthwhile addition to my life legacy library. Written by Henning Mankell, an acclaimed Swedish author (you'll know him if you read Kurt Wallander mysteries), the book I Die, But My Memory Lives On describes how he came across "memory books" while traveling in Uganda.

Memory books are deeply moving little volumes written by people with AIDS for their children so that they will have something to remember their parents by. Mankell writes that "these memory books could prove to be the most important documents our time has produced."

Here's a link to a Plan USA web page about the book (Plan USA is a preeminent child-centered organization working to help the world's poorest children):

Memoir features memory book project

I'm currently reading the book and will share my learnings in a future blog post.
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Monday, December 18, 2006

Lasting Legacy of a Compassionate Nurse

Our local newspaper featured a volunteer program today that is a lasting legacy of nurse, Sandra Clarke. The story recounts an experience she had with a dying patient that inspired her to start "No One Dies Alone" which partners compassionate companions with terminally ill patients who are without support of family or friends as they face death. In my view, it is a program that every hospital throughout the world should have. Here's a link to the article:

Together at the End

As a hospice volunteer, I encourage you to become a part of such a hospital-based program or a hospice in your area. Not only will you help assure that "no one dies alone" in your community, the experience will teach you about death in ways that will allow you to face your own death with grace (and live your life with more joy and delight!).
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Monday, December 11, 2006

A Teaching Story - A Legacy to Pass On

In the Spirituality & Practice e-newsletter I received last week, a "teaching story" from Caroline Myss shows how a brief encounter can affect your life's legacy:

"Years ago I had a conversation with a man who told me that the most important truth he had learned was to be kind. He learned this, he recounted, during a cab ride in New York City. As he was paying the driver, he said, "Thank you, sir." At this, the driver leaped, ran around the back of the cab, and opened the door for his passenger. Startled, the man got out and said to the cab driver, "You didn't have to do that," to which the driver responded, "I wanted to. You are the first person in this country to honor me by calling me sir, and I thank you for that respect." The man had never before considered the power inherent in a respectful gesture, but from then on, kindness became the pillar on which he built his life and the legacy he hoped to pass on to his children. That exchange, he said, changed his life."

— Caroline Myss in Invisible Acts of Power: Personal Choices That Create Miracles

Kindness is one of the values I have practiced in my life which I would like to pass on to my children and grandchildren. I learned the importance of kindness the hard way as a child -- from a father and a few (mostly male) school teachers who were very unkind to me. Their gestures were not only disrespectful to me, they were downright mean and abusive. Even so, in a backhanded (literally!) way, these "negative" experiences taught me the value of kindness. Once I had forgiven those who were unkind to me, I could finally see how they had changed my life for the better -- teaching me how important it is to be kind to everyone I encounter in the world.

What life experiences have you had that changed you and the values you would like to pass on to future generations of your family?

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Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Creating A Video of Your Life Legacy

A reader of my blog referred me to a local company that offers a service to create Legacy Life Videos. I gave the owner of the the firm, Martin Hall, a call and we got together yesterday at his office to discuss our mutual labors of love to help people document their life legacy.

Marty and I shared our "paths" to legacy work, both of which started with hospice experiences in our lives -- his with a family member and mine as a hospice volunteer. Marty wrote a book about his sitting with a dying person to help others who would be faced with the experience and decided to create a new venture to create legacy videos that "capture a moment today and create an heirloom for tomorrow."

In his office suite, Marty outfitted a multi-camera "living room" studio to capture on DVD video a one-hour conversation with people of any age who want to create a video legacy of their life (or reflections about special occasions in life -- births, graduations, weddings, retirements, etc.). You can view samples of their videos on the Legacy Life Video website.

Marty described his legacy video work as "both a labor of love and a place of high honor in helping to capture the memories, experiences, wisdom, and love that others are willing to share." The word I use to describe that "place of high honor" in my ethical will work with people is feeling blessed to be able to personally hear their life stories, the "lessons" life has taught them, and the wisdom they have to share with their loved ones.

Along with creating a written ethical will, I highly recommend telling your life stories on video and sharing what you'd like future generations of your family to know has mattered most in your life. What a precious gift for loved ones to be able to see you, to hear your voice, and to listen to wisdom from your life journey .... wherever they are living today .... and after you've passed on.

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Sunday, December 03, 2006

Your Legacy of the Present (and Presence)

Last weekend, I read an outstanding magazine article by Michael Ventura which I felt has information of enduring value for everyone's life and life legacy. As a counselor in private practice for nearly 10 years in the 1990's, I especially appreciated this quote from the article:

"Jungian psychologist James Hillman told me once that in his clinical practice, he found that nothing was harder to "treat," to do therapy with and upon, than peoples' schedules. He said it was very difficult to get people to see that their schedule was their life--the skeletal structure of their existence. You're not going to change your life much unless you change your schedule: open it up so that the unexpected may enter. Else how can the present be a presence instead of just another goal--or just something else you don't have time for?"

What does your schedule look like today? This week? This past year? Here's a link to the complete article:

"Appointments With Yourself" by Michael Ventura

Let me know if you find the article helpful for your life. It certainly got me thinking more about what the "present moment" means (and reminded me once again that what is on my daily schedule -- or not -- becomes my personal life legacy).
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Tuesday, November 28, 2006

On Elderhood: What Is Old Age For?

I've written a couple of times about Dr. William Thomas (The Greening of Aging & An Oregonian Interview) who is working to transform nursing home care and cultural views of the elderly. Last week, I found a back issue of Yes Magazine which contained an excerpt from his book, "What Are Old People For? How Elders Will Save the World". Here's a link to the article:

What Is Old Age For? by William Thomas

I love what he says about elders and elderhood in the conclusion to the article:

"Any honest accounting of the potential influence of elders and elderhood must address the contributions not only of fit and energetic elders. It must recognize the contributions that people who are weak, ill, infirm, dependent, demented, disabled, and dying can make to this struggle. The old and frail are able to surmount the dizzy bustle that clings to the young—to enter a time and place in which the spiritual and emotional dimensions of human life take precedence over the humdrum workings (and failings) of organs, tissues, and systems. This is among the most admirable of all human endeavors. What the old and frail do is show us the way. They provide us with greater insight into and a clearer perspective on the human condition."

I invite your comments (and would love some feedback from people working in nursing homes and assisted living facilities in the U.S. and around the world).

I have especially enjoyed hearing the insights of elders who have participated in my ethical will classes and introductory talks on life legacies. What a priviledge it was to listen to a 98-year old woman tell stories about her life (as well as hear the wisdom of many people in their 60's, 70's and 80's). They definitely gave me a "clearer perspective on the human condition."
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Tuesday, November 21, 2006

"Storycatching " on Thanksgiving Day

I received an e-mail yesterday from Christina Baldwin, author of Storycatcher: Making Sense of Our Lives through the Power and Practice of Story. Her message contained some questions for Thanksgiving which I thought were well-suited for gathering family stories to include in an ethical will.

Christina tells her personal Thanksgiving story then notes "in that space between dinner and when we can face the delicious array of pies, we gather around the fireplace and feed each other a round of stories. A question sets us in a particular direction:

What is a recent experience you've had that gives you hope?

What's a favorite memory about Thanksgiving Day?

What's the most unusual thing you've ever done on Thanksgiving?

What do you hope will have changed/happened in your life by next Thanksgiving?

The kinds of collective spirit that gathers around these holidays hold many stories waiting to be told. Will you be the Storycatcher in your family or circle of friends to create a space and a bit of time to hear each other's tales?"

Thank you, Christina, for suggesting these questions for holiday gatherings. And a personal "thank you" to everyone who reads my blog. May you be blessed with abundance and great memories of Thanksgiving Days in your life!
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Thursday, November 16, 2006

Memory: Who & What Do You Remember?

One of the challenges (and opportunities) in creating an ethical will is "memory". We're called upon to recall the people and events of our whole lifetime (so far) as well as reflect on their meaning for our lives today.

According to Piero Ferrucci in his new book, The Power of Kindness (which I'm currently reading):

"The essence of memory is not in the storage of information, but in the emotions we hold, in the meaning we give to our recollections, in the relationships that, because we remember them, stay alive. The friends of my childhood, the pain of a goodbye, the meeting with a special person, a wonderful September afternoon, and so forth -- all these are not merely items I keep in an archive. They are vital ingredients of my history. Through my memories I build my life and my identity. I am what I am by virtue of how I remember what has happened to me, the people I have met, the mistakes I have made, the triumphs I have enjoyed. I remember, therefore I am."

So in creating an ethical or spiritual will, we are reflecting on what is most "alive" in us today from all of our years of experience as a human being. No matter what our age, we can benefit from taking time for reflection, for looking at what lives in our memories, for seeing what meaning we have given to what we remember.

I encourage you to begin exploring memories of your lifetime. In the process, you'll find the "I am" of your life.
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Thursday, November 09, 2006

Remembering People Who Guided You

Another new book, "A Hand to Guide Me," by award-winning actor, Denzel Washington, came to my attention when I saw him being interviewed by Oprah recently. The book features 74 stories of well-known people who had mentors who guided them in their life.

Washington, who is a national spokesperson for Boys & Girls Clubs of America (and is contributing book proceeds to the organization), writes:

"The real story, the universal story, is that we all stand upon another set of shoulders. We are, all of us, the sum of our influences. We've all been taken by the hand and led to a better, more purposeful place." He goes on to say,"if you've achieved anything in your life, if you've overcome any kind of obstacles, odds are you've had some help and we'll do well to acknowledge that help and pass it on."

Who are those people who have helped you -- who have stepped up to guide you at various stages of your life? What did they say or do that made a meaningful difference in your life? Take some time to write about those people and, if you haven't already expressed your gratitude to them, do it today. If they've already passed on, write them a letter anyway and read it to someone you love. And acknowledge your mentors in your ethical will or personal legacy letter.
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Life Lessons: Interview with Ellen Burstyn

This week, Academy Award-winning actress Ellen Burstyn was in Portland to do a reading from her new memoir, "Lessons in Becoming Myself." I've long admired her film work and enjoyed what she had to say in an interview with Grant Butler of The Oregonian.

Here's a link to the interview:

Burstyn on life's lessons

Looking at our "life lessons" is an important part of the process of creating an ethical will. Take some quiet time today to consider what the "ups & downs" of your life have taught you. You may have memoir of your own to write! If not, at least you'll have harvested the wisdom of your life experience to share in your ethical will.
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Tuesday, November 07, 2006

"This I Believe": Inspiration for Your Ethical Will

A few months ago, I commented on the "This I Believe" program on NPR noting that it could be used to "kick-start" writing about your beliefs in your ethical will. I recently saw a copy of a new "This I Believe" book containing radio segments from eighty people -- from the famous to the unknown-- who contributed to the program.

In the introduction, co-author Jay Allison writes that "This I Believe" offers a simple, if difficult invitation. Write a few hundred words expressing the core principles that guide your life -- your personal credo." He goes on to say "Beliefs are choices. No one has authority over your personal beliefs. Your beliefs are in jeopardy only when you don't know what they are."

Are your beliefs in jeopardy? Can you express the core principles that guide your life? Reading the book and/or listening to the archived programs is a great source of inspiration for thinking about the personal beliefs you want to share in your ethical will.
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Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Celebrating A Mentor: Robert Bly

At a dinner to honor Robert Bly during his Eugene visit last week, I had an opportunity to publicly express my gratitude to him for mentoring me for nearly 25 years. I know he has mentored thousands of men (without knowing it!) and probably as many women poets during his lifetime. For me, it felt like the right moment to voice my affection, admiration, and love for the man who has made such a meaningful contribution to my life and the life of so many people around the world.

After Robert was "toasted" by everyone at the gathering, I made my way to his table and gave my (mostly) impromptu talk about how we met, how attending his men's gatherings gave me a proverbial "kick in the butt" to start working with local men in support groups and workshops, and how his poetry has given me and everyone who has read his work "a thousand years of joy."

I also shared a funny story about my grandmother Hannah's reaction when I told her I had met Robert Bly at a poetry reading in Illinois. My "gramma" looked a lot like Robert with her white hair, wire-rimmed glasses, and ruddy western Minnesotan complexion. When I told the story to Robert and the group, I asked him to mimic my grandmother's wonderful grimace (which he did) when she had exclaimed to me, "Oh, that awful Bly boy!". The room (and Robert) filled with laughter. He then quietly asked me, "Did she tell you why she said that?" "Never did," I replied, but I suspect it was because Robert told many of the "unspoken secrets" of Madison and the people who lived there. I told him and the audience that her response had made such a big impression on me that I knew I better pay very close attention to whatever that "awful Bly boy" was doing for the rest of his life (and mine!). So I have ... and I've been blessed in ways I never would have imagined.

Looking back at that evening, I'm pleased that I was able to share with Robert many of the words I've written in my ethical will about him and his influence on my life. Many of the other men and women who've been important in my life died before I could tell them how much they mattered to me (or I finally "woke-up" to realize their significance in my life).

I encourage you to seek out your mentors who are still alive and tell them now the many ways they have made a difference in your life. And celebrate them in person as well as honor those who have passed on by including your thoughts about them in your ethical will.
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Monday, October 23, 2006

Embracing Elderhood: Interview with Dr. Bill Thomas

Several months ago, I wrote about the "Greening of Aging" describing what Dr. Bill Thomas is doing to change the "landscape" of elderhood. He founded the Eden Alternative to reform nursing home care in the U.S. and has planned new communities for elder living.

Dr. Thomas was is Portland last week and was interviewed by Don Colburn of The Oregonian. Here's a link to the interview:

"Embrace elderhood, doctor tells boomers"

I especially enjoyed the way Dr. Thomas differentiates between "adulthood" and "elderhood" when he says:

"So when does elderhood begin? When you stop acting like an adult and start acting like an elder. Elders begin to look at the world and live their lives with a much greater emphasis on being rather than doing. They're much more concerned about relationship, emotion, intrinsic satisfaction. They're no longer obsessed with doing and getting and having. Therefore, they can be a voice in our culture and our society that can help us find our way. You can even argue that one of our major problems that we're facing in America is that we have a society that's run by adults without elder supervision. Historically and around the world, that's a rare and dangerous circumstance."

I encourage you to read the interview and invite your comments. You may also want to read his new book, "What Are Old People For? How Elders Will Save the World".
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Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Honoring Your Mentors in Your Ethical Will

One section of my ethical will speaks to the women and men who have mentored me and contributed most to the "life-shaping" of the man I am today. Among the men I honor as a mentor is poet, Robert Bly.

What a joy it was for me last night to listen to Robert recite his poems in a room filled with 600+ people. I had not seen him or heard him in person for nearly 10 years, but his unforgetable, distinctly Minnesotan voice sounded as powerful (and familiar) as ever. Now 79 years old, I first met Robert at a poetry reading in DeKalb, Illnois (I was 38 at the time). Ironically, I was born in the town of his birth and where he lived much of his life -- Madison, Minnesota -- and I was studying journalism at the University of Minnesota in the late 60's when he was in Minneapolis protesting the Vietnam War.

At the reading in DeKalb, I recall Robert's poetry "transporting" me back to the landscape and towns of western Minnesota where we both had lived. Poems from his Silence in the Snowy Fields especially touched me and opened my heart to the beauty of poetry in a way that I had never experienced before. And, after the reading, when I introduced myself to Robert, he told me a story about a young family member he knew (on my mother's side) who had died in a farm accident while haying. It was a story so tragic that no one in my family had ever told it to me.

Robert Bly was in the forefront of poets against the war in Vietnam and continues to speak today against the war in Iraq. In his view, the Bush adminstration has made the biggest mistake of any American presidency, pitting twenty-first century capitalist fundamentalism against twelvth century Muslim fundamentalism. His poetry speaks with great clarity about war and our response as citizen's to the actions of leaders in Washington. Here's a link to a powerful poem he wrote in August 2002:

Call and Answer

The poem is included in his latest collection, My Sentence Was a Thousand Years of Joy, which features many poems written in the traditional Islamic ghazal form.

Shortly after I met Bly in 1982, I read a magazine article titled "What Men Really Want" in which author Keith Thompson interviewed Robert about his views and work with men. What he said resonated deeply with my experience as a man and got me interested in the so-called "mythopoetic men's movement". I attended my first men's gathering in Michigan in the late 1980's (led by Shepherd Bliss) and the experience turned my life in a new direction. I joined a men's support group in Indianapolis where I lived at the time and plunged into reading everything that was being written about men and life as a male.

The momentum of the my men's group experience continued when I moved to Oregon. As I noted in my post yesterday, I partipated in men's gatherings with Robert Bly which, together with his book, Iron John, inspired me to begin "birthing" men's support groups in our community. Dozens of groups of 7-10 men came together for 2-hour sessions over eight weeks. My intention was to build enough trust in each group so the men could continue meeting by themselves (while I moved on to birth another group). For most of the men, what began as a scary experience on the first night transformed into genuine trust over the weeks together -- leading to male friendships that continue today. Some of these groups continue as well, including one I started for my own personal support which has met every week for nearly 15 years.

Along with the support groups, I initiated a weekend men's gathering at the Oregon coast -- gatherings of 10-20 men -- and held fifteen of them over a period of years. I also created and began teaching a class called "Understanding Men: For Women & Men" at our community college. Attended by more women than men, the classes of 12-24 people met weekly each quarter in the mid-1990's. I also created several "Healing the Hearts of Men" workshops which focused on healing of father-wounds, mother-wounds, men's anger, male sexuality, male spirituality, and intimacy with women. These short-term (4-8 weeks) sessions for small groups were among the most creative "outbursts" of my life.

In all the men's work I was doing (along with my counseling practice for men and couples), I used poetry, mythology, personal story, breathwork, and "talk-therapy" to help heal emotional wounds of the past and support people in creating the life they wanted to live in the present. It was often difficult, gut-wrenching work and I heard far too many stories of abuse and neglect by fathers (and by some mothers). But the rewards came in seeing people do their healing work and transform themselves in the brief time I was privileged to be a part of their lives.

So Robert Bly, dear man and poet, I bless you for being a mentor to me, for inspiring me to bring poetry back into my life (giving me "a thousand years of joy"!), and for your "kick-starting" the most challenging, creative, growth-filled, and fulfilling work of my life -- so far, that is!
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Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Your Legacy of Work: My Personal Story

Following up on my post about "legacy-thinking" in your worklife, I reviewed what I wrote in my ethical will about my own work legacy and participated in an interview last week that focused on a significant part of my life's work experience.

Reflecting on my legacy, the work I did with men in our community during the "men's movement" was the most satisfying and creative time of my life (so far!). I suspect that if I were to die today, what people would remember about my work is the impact it had on the lives of hundreds of men (and the women and children who love them) over an eight-year period in the 1990's.

For a story in advance of a poetry reading by Robert Bly tonight in Eugene, I was interviewed by a local newspaper columnist about my experiences with men and my view of the legacy of the men's movement. Here's a link to the story:

"Whatever Happened to the Men's Movement?" by Bob Welch - (The Register-Guard, October 15, 2006)

I appreciate Bob Welch ( for his heart-centered, openness to sharing his life experience during an interview. And I admire his writing and engaging style in speeches I've seen him give. Bob's love of his community, his family, and his life in Oregon "shines bright" in his columns each week and in the books he has authored including Where Roots Grow Deep: Stories of Family, Love, and Legacy, A Father for All Seasons, and The Things That Matter Most: Choosing Family, Faith, and the Simple Life.

During the '90's, I was deeply inspired by the poetry and men's work done by Robert Bly ( -- as were thousands of other men across the country. Attending men's conferences with Robert and participating in men's groups locally led to my work in facilitating men's support groups, leading weekend gatherings at Heceta House on the Oregon coast, creating several "healing the hearts of men" workshops, and teaching "Understanding Men: For Women & Men" at our community college. It was a challenging and life-enhancing time for me -- helping men deal with their anger and grief (mostly about their "missing" fathers), awaken to their full range of emotions, and become conscious, loving men in their relationships with women, children, and other men.

I loved seeing the transformation of men during an eight-week support group or men's weekend as they began to trust other men with their feelings -- to see men yell, cry, dance, drum, sing, share haiku poems (often their first poems ever written), laugh, and hold one another -- celebrating their manhood in the company of other men.

In those gatherings, men received (and have continued to receive to this day) the blessing of authentic male friendships in their lives. Such friendships are one of the most soul-satisfying experiences of a man's life. How different life on this planet Earth would be if every man (woman and child) had friends they could talk with about anything, be with through all of their life's ups and downs, and count on to "show up and be present" no matter what.

My hope for future generations is that the work done by men involved in the men's movement -- and by every man who "shows up" emotionally, physically, and spiritually for himself, for other men, and for woman and children -- makes a lasting contribution to peace and harmony in the lives of people throughout the world.
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Wednesday, October 11, 2006

"Legacy Thinking" in Your Worklife

One of the areas for reflection in creating an ethical will is our worklife. For most people, experiences and accomplishments at work -- outside and inside the home -- are a significant part of their life legacy. For some, their work path has clearly been intentional ; for others, work has "happened" as they've lived their lives.

I'm always looking for ways in which people are thinking about their life legacies. Recently, I learned about a new book, Your Leadership Legacy: Why Looking Toward the Future Will Make You a Better Leader Today, which focuses on the value of "legacy thinking" for leaders. It offers a process for individuals to use in creating an "intentional legacy", including writing a legacy statement for themselves based on questions much like those I use with people creating an ethical will.

The authors, Robert Galford and Regina Maruca, say that for people leading an organization (or any group of individuals):

"... your legacy will be revealed in how your colleagues, employees, and others think and behave as a result of the time spent working with you.

If you start thinking about your leadership legacy now, you will greatly increase the odds of leaving a legacy that reflects your best qualities, as well as the elements of your leadership that you would like to see embedded in the fabric of the organization you leave behind.

More importantly, you will be a better and happier leader for the effort. In clarifying what you would like others to take away as a result of having worked with or for you, you will gain a better understanding of yourself in your role as a leader, and you will better understand how the big-picture view of your role is fueled by your actions on a daily basis.

Your legacy is today."

In my experience, the authors' viewpoint applies to everyone who takes time to consider their life legacy -- at any time or stage of their life. Whether or not you consider yourself to be a "leader" -- when you create an ethical will, personal legacy letter, or a "legacy statement" about your work -- you will better see how your daily actions are building a legacy of your lifetime. Thinking and writing about your legacy allows you to be more intentional about what you want to leave behind for future generations of your family, friends, and colleagues.

In upcoming postings, I'll share more of my own worklife legacy as well as some ideas for reflecting on your lifetime of work to "harvest" wisdom for your ethical will.

For more information about "legacy thinking" as described in the book, here's a link to an interview with the authors:

How Legacy Thinking Makes Better Leaders Today

I'd appreciate your feedback about the interview or the book if you've already read it.
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Monday, October 02, 2006

Another Revealing Question: Your "Free" Time?

Along with Mark Albion's question in my previous post, another great question to clarify your values is:

"How do I spend my 'free' time -- the time I take just for myself?"

When I ask the question in a class, sometimes people say, "I don't have any free time" or "I can't possibly take any time for myself!" -- both of which are revealing of a person's self-valuing (or, at least, of their level of busyness!).

More often than not, I see a person's core values expressed in their avocations, their hobbies, their volunteer activities, and other "free-floating" activities of their lives. Many people, of course, have jobs or careers that allow them to express their most important values every day in their work. For others, family life fully expresses their core values.

Ask yourself what you were doing the last time you had some "free" time (hopefully, as much as you want!). Were you at your art table creating beauty? Were you reading to a youngster? Were you in your garden? Were you learning something new you were curious about? Were you giving a speech about global warming? Were you volunteering in New Orleans, India, your neighborhood, or your church?

Was whatever you were doing with your "free" time putting one or more of your most important values into practice?

May you be blessed with an abundance of time in your life to express your heart's desire!
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A Revealing Question: True to Yourself?

In Mark Albion's book, True to Yourself: Leading A Values-Based Business, he asks a simple, but powerful, question:

"When people hear your name, can they say immediately what you stand for?"

I wonder. Am I as "transparent" to people I know and love as I think I am? Can they say immediately what I stand for? Best ask them!

Albion's question cuts sharply to reveal our core values-- asking us to look closely at how we're living our life. You may want to ask yourself and your loved ones his question (as I am) to clarify the values you want to pass on in your ethical will or personal legacy letters.
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Thursday, September 28, 2006

Keeping Your Mind On What Matters

This morning on our NPR station, Garrison Keilor read a Mary Oliver poem that sounded like it belongs in her ethical will (and my everyday life!). I especially love the lines:

"Let me
keep my mind on what matters,
which is my work,
which is mostly standing still and learning to be

You can read the poem and listen to Garrison's reading of it at:

The Writers Almanac

What a great poem to inspire anyone on a new day!
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Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Your Legacy of Stories

In creating an ethical will, family stories and personal "tales" may be an important part of the content of your document. It depends on how much "story" has been part of your life and whether or not story-telling was valued in your family.

Last night at our monthly hospice volunteer meeting, we discussed plans for training volunteers to be "storycatchers" for hospice patients and their families. During the session, I led an exercise in which we imagined ourselves as hospice patients being visited by our assigned volunteer (who we had spoken with during previous visits).

In the imagined scenario, the volunteer has been asked by family members to record stories of your life (the hospice patient) for listening by your grandchildren and great-grandchildren in the future. You've agreed to record some of your life stories.

The volunteer says to you:

"Tell me one of your favorite stories that you've told many times in your life?"

(In the silence, participants allow stories to come to mind as they breathe into their heart).

After a minute or two of silence, the volunteer asks you a second question:

"What stories would you like people to tell about you after you're gone?"

(Once again, participants allowed stories to come to mind in the silence).

After another period of quiet, we concluded the exercise and came back to the present to share what stories (or other experiences) had emerged from the two questions.

While I won't share any specific stories here, participants reported that they often told stories about their children "over and over", about their significant family experiences, about important relationships in their life, and about major life "events". Some also told family stories that had been told to them by their parents or grandparents.

To the surprise of a few people, the second question awakened an emotional response about "remembrance" after one's death. It also raised wonderings about "Am I telling the stories I want to be remembered by?" and "Are their stories am I not telling (and keeping a secret)?"

You may want to "try on" the two questions from the exercise yourself. Or, if you'd like to pursue your life stories in more depth, I highly recommend an excellent study guide, "Storycatching with a circle of friends", available from Christina Baldwin on her website.
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Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Hospice Volunteers to Become "Storycatchers"

Last month (Aug. 2 blog entry), I wrote about Christina Baldwin's new book, Storycatcher: Making Sense of Our Lives through the Power and Practice of Story, noting that it is an excellent guide for "catching" the stories in your life that you'd like to include in your ethical will. I've recently found another wonderful way to use "storycatching": to enhance the lives of hospice patients and their families.

After reading my blog, our hospice volunteer coordinator (at the local hospice I've served as a volunteer for six years) contacted me to explore the possibility of adding "storycatcher" training to their curriculum for volunteer training. Some families had previously requested a volunteer to record a patient's stories for their children and grandchildren to listen to in the future. (I had recorded stories of an elderly gentleman on hospice a few years ago -- an experience which ultimately led me to the subject of ethical wills!).

A couple of weeks ago, the hospice volunteer coordinator and I met to discuss how to introduce "storycatching" to current volunteers and the hospice team. We also planned a program about it for our upcoming monthly hospice volunteer potluck. Then last week, I met with the hospice team to discuss the idea and their role in offering the services of volunteers to "catch" stories of patients on audio or videotape for families. Since many of them had enjoyed hearing lots of stories from patients in their work (and knew of patients who had recorded family and personal stories before their death), there was excitement over the prospect of having volunteers available to serve as a "storycatcher" for their patients.

I'm looking forward to doing part of the training for volunteers and helping in the development of "tell me about ..." questions and a "listening" guide for use in recording the stories of hospice patients.

Knowing how much I would love to be able to listen today to the stories told by my father, grandmothers, and grandfathers, I have a sense of the meaning that recorded life stories of hospice patients will have for their family members (and future generations).

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Thursday, September 14, 2006

Elder Wisdom Circles on the Internet

Happened across a copy of USAToday yesterday with an article about Elder Wisdom Circles ( that I found hopeful in light of the fact that over 600 elders are "offering up their experience and wisdom via the Internet to the younger generation's confused and troubled." So far, over 60,000 requests for free, personalized advice!

You can read the article at: (Sept. 13, 2006) - "Elders dish advice ..."

For too long in my opinion, the wisdom of our elders has been ignored in our culture. Knowing that elders are being sought for advice over the Internet is great news! Now, how can we get more "youngsters" seeking elderwisdom face-to-face with the elders living in their neighborhoods, in retirement communities, assisted living facilities, and nursing homes? And how can we get more elders to share their wisdom in ethical wills and personal legacy letters to future generations of their families? I invite your ideas and suggestions.
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More Wisdom from Pickles: "Beauty is in ..."

Enjoyed a good laugh over the wisdom about beauty that Grandpa passed along to his grandson:

Pickles (Sept. 13, 2006)

Reminds me to write about the subject of "beauty" in my ethical will (and the woman who taught me the most about it). And to let go of any expectations about whether or not my words "sink in" (and are remembered) by those who read what I've written!

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Sunday, September 10, 2006

What Do You Love in Your Life?

Read a poem today (which appeared on Labor Day in Garrison Keilor's The Writer's Almanac) and I thought it spoke beautifully of the kind of people Marge Piercy loves in her life. Life's "loves" are a great topic to write about in an ethical will.

The Writer's Almanac - Poem by Marge Piercy

Hope you enjoy it! And write about your great "loves" in your ethical will.
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Saturday, September 09, 2006

Imagining Grief on Life's Journey

I've been wanting to read The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion for several months and had a copy practically leap into my hands from a cart of books waiting to be shelved at the library a few weeks ago. So I figured it must be the right time for me to read it. It's beautifully written yet brutally difficult to imagine living her story of the death of her husband of 40 years, author John Gregory Dunne, while also nearly losing their daughter, Quintana, to a life-threatening illness at the same time. As Didion puts it:

Life changes fast.
Life changes in the instant.
You sit down to dinner and life as you know it ends.

While I don't intend to review the book here, there is one paragraph from Chapter 17 that so startled me with its wisdom about grief that I felt like it was a life lesson worth remembering (and a passage I'd recommend Joan Didion include in her ethical will):

"Grief turns out to be a place none of us know until we reach it. We anticipate (we know) that someone close to us could die, but we do not look beyond the few days or weeks that immediately follow such an imagined death. We misconstrue the nature of even those few days or weeks. We might expect if the death is sudden to feel shock. We do not expect this shock to be obliterative, dislocating to both body and mind. We might expect that we will be prostrate, inconsolable, crazy with loss. We do not expect to be literally crazy, cool customers who believe that their husband is about to return and need his shoes. In the version of grief we imagine, the model will be "healing". A certain forward movement will prevail. The worst days will be the earliest days. We imagine that the moment to most severely test us will be the funeral, after which this hypothetical healing will take place. When we anticipate the funeral we wonder about failing to "get through it," rise to the occasion, exhibit the "strength" that invariably gets mentioned as the correct response to death. We anticipate needing to steel ourselves for the moment: will I be able to greet people, will I be able to leave the scene, will I be able even to get dressed that day? We have no way of knowing that this will not be the issue. We have no way of knowing that the funeral itself will be anodyne, a kind of narcotic regression in which we are wrapped in the care of others and the gravity and meaning of the occasion. Nor can we know ahead of the fact (and here lies the heart of the difference between grief as we imagine it and grief as it is) the unending absence that follows, the void, the very opposite of meaning, the relentless succession of moments during which we will confront the experience of meaningless itself."

As hard as the subject matter can be at times, The Year of Magical Thinking is well worth reading. Even though death seems to be most everyone's least favorite topic to read about -- much less talk about in public -- we're all headed in that direction . . . one day at a time.
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Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Life Lessons: "Waking Up" to Close Friendships

In my ethical will, one of the life lessons I've written about is the importance developing and nurturing close friendships, especially same gender friends. I had great boyhood "pals" but, like most men of my generation, I lost touch with them over the years (except for one man I've stayed in contact with). From my 20's into my 40's, I left the world of male friendships behind, focusing on my work and family -- spending no time on close friendships. My only so-called "man friends" were a few work colleagues and a neighbor or two who I'd play bridge with or a very occasional game of golf. None of us were able to talk about anything other than business, sports, or politics with one another.

Thankfully, I got a "wake-up call" -- a gift of the mens' movement in the early 1990's -- and started a group of men friends who I can talk with about anything going on in my life. For over 12 years, we've gotten together for breakfast every Tuesday morning to enjoy each other's company and talk about "our week" and the heart and soul issues of our lives. A few men have come and gone, replaced by others who've stayed. This week, the four men at the breakfast table ranged in age from 61 to 85 (our group's "old guy" bikes 3 miles to the restaurant -- and can do 49 "real" push-ups!). A couple of guys were missing but we know they'll return when they're back in town (or missing the easy companionship of men they can talk to about anything -- or nothing -- in their life that day).

Most years, our men's group has also gone to the Coast or to the Cascade mountains for a weekend together. No planned activities -- just time to talk, cook meals together (we eat very well indeed!), enjoy long morning walks on the beach or trails, and "hang out" in the natural beauty of Oregon. It's an incomparable experience that I wish every man could enjoy at some time in his life. I suspect that the world as we know it would be more peaceful and all relationships more harmonious if men of all ages had a such close group of friends.

My focus on male friendship was prompted by an article I read recently -- an excerpt from Bob Greene's book, And You Know You Should Be Glad: A True Story of Lifelong Friendship. Here's a link to the article:

Friends for Life

May Bob's story bless you with laughter and tears (as it did me when I read it). And inspire you to take the first steps (if you haven't already done so) to invite close friendships into your life -- making the commitment of time and consistent willingness to "show up" for the people who become your own friends for life.
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Thursday, August 24, 2006

On Valued Life Learnings: Recognizing Our Teachers

In one section of my ethical will, I write about significant life learnings from teachers who've influenced the way I've chosen to live my life. Angeles Arrien, who I quoted last week in Reflections on the Second Half of Life, was one of those people. I met her just once several years ago when she did a workshop in Eugene and I've read all of her books. The wisdom she shared in The Four-Fold Way has made a life-shaping difference in my life over the past dozen or more years.

Most prominently, in the years I facilitated hundreds of mens' groups and workshops, Ms. Arrien's following words were confirmed (and affirmed) over and over in my experience as trust (and brotherly love) developed between the "strangers" who arrived for a weekend together or for a weekly support group:

"When we learn to live these archetypes within ourselves, we will begin to heal ourselves and our fragmented world.

1. Show up, or choose to be present. Being present allows us to access the human resources of power, presence, and communication. This is the way of the Warrior.

2. Pay attention to what has heart and meaning. Paying attention opens us to the human resources of love, gratitude, acknowledgment, and validation. This is the way of the Healer.

3. Tell the truth without blame or judgment. Nonjudgmental truthfulness maintains our authenticity, and develops our inner vision and intuition. This is the way of the Visionary.

4. Be open to outcome, not attached to outcome. Openness and nonattachment help us recover the human resources of wisdom and objectivity. This is the way of the Teacher.

When we understand these universal experiences, we are better able to respect the diverse ways in which these shared themes are expressed by all people."

While I may never learn to fully live these archetypes within me, they've been a powerful guide for my life and the lives of many of the men who shared the group experiences with me. For future generations who survive me, my hope is that people will honor this ancient wisdom -- learning to live "the four-fold way" to experience harmony with one another, with the environment, and with their own inner nature.
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Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Reflections on the Second Half of Life

I've long admired the work of Angeles Arrien, a cultural anthropologist who wrote The Four-Fold Way and most recently, The Second Half of Life: Opening the Eight Gates of Wisdom. In her new book, Ms. Arrien offers the following passage which I find especially helpful for creating an ethical will:

"Nonattachment, surrender, and letting go of the future are necessary if you are to reflect on your entire life and all that you have been and done, and enter the final threshold of your life. You make the conscious choice of living not in the past or future, but in each present moment. This takes great courage and the ability to make peace with your life: to live without hope or fear, to let go without regret, to know that you have lived fully.

  • Reflect on your life and notice the areas where you are attached or have unfinished business. Consider this: If you knew when your life would end, what would you do to live out your final days in a full and complete way? As you cannot know the moment your life will end, why not live each moment as though it were the most precious one left to you?
  • How do you honor your ancestors? What do you know about them? What qualities in your ancestors would you like to emulate?
  • What was your first experience of death? Who died? What impact did this event have upon you? How has your relationship to death changed since then?
  • Identify what you are grateful for in your life journey; what have you learned from this journey and what have been the many blessings and opportunities offered to you along the way?
  • Review where you have been positively affected and changed for the better by your life journey.
  • Where were you challenged, tested, and stretched beyond your perceived capacities?
  • What do you need to mend your life or where do you need to do rectification or reparations work? What final forgiveness work is needed for you to feel complete? What do you need to say or do to feel complete?"
Powerful questions to reflect upon for writing your ethical will ... and for the way you choose to live the rest of your life!
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Monday, August 14, 2006

Leadership Lessons From Mom

I came across an article in an issue of Business Week that offered some wonderful life lessons that Henry Givray received from his mother, Stavroula Givray. Here's a link:

Leadership Lessons From Mom

Henry poses a great question for business leaders at the end of his commentary:

"In the end, isn't making an enduring difference in the lives of people by inspiring them and enabling them to do great work and reach their utmost potential what leadership is all about?"
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Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Voicing Your Beliefs in An Ethical Will

Most people I've worked with to create their own ethical will have included a section about their beliefs. If you'd like some inspiration for writing and giving voice to your beliefs, take a listen to (or read) some of the essays from the "This I Believe" program on NPR:

This I Believe

After you've written your beliefs for your ethical will, you may want to contribute some of what you've written to the radio program. They've made it easy (once you get through their "submission agreement"). I haven't contributed myself yet, but have added it to my "to do" list for some day in the future.

Let me know when to listen to your "This I Believe" segment on our local NPR station.
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Saturday, August 05, 2006

Some Funny Advice On Not Giving Advice in Your Ethical Will

I caution people not to give advice (nor guilt-trip) family members in their ethical will; rather, choose to focus on sharing "lessons" from your life experience and your values.

Reading today's comics, Pickles reminded me of the wisdom of not sharing "all my wisdom" as a Grampa:

Pickles - August 5, 2006

Any advice you'd care to share about not sharing "advice" in your ethical will?
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Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Becoming A "Storycatcher"

I've long admired Christina Baldwin's writing and storytelling. Her latest book, Storycatcher: Making Sense of Our Lives through the Power and Practice of Story, is a wonderful resource and guide for "catching" the stories in your life that you'd like to include in your ethical will.

Baldwin says that "we all have moments in our lives when we find our depth. Reflection on those times helps to create a story that defines how we live our lives. The responsibility of a Storycatcher is to use the spiral of story and experience to add insight and meaning to our life events. The more deeply we carry the story, the more we can recognize wisdom in our lives and the lives of those around us."

The book offers many questions and "tell me this story. . ." beginnings to get you started with writing your personal and family stories. I highly recommend Christina Baldwin's book which tells her life story while providing inspiration for writing and telling the stories of our own lives.

More information is available at:
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Friday, July 28, 2006

Recording Family Stories for Your Ethical Will

Family stories can be an important part of your ethical will. You may be the last person in your family who remembers a story that you'd like to pass along to future generations. Or, you may want to tell a story about yourself that you'd like remembered.

Hearing your voice telling the story can be especially moving for those who care about you. Your loved ones will cherish the family stories and remembrances from your life that you've taken the time to record or videotape.

For a sampling of memorable life stories that could be part of someone's ethical will, I recommend listening to the stories that "StoryCorps" has been offering on PBS Radio. The story I heard today by pediatrician, John Bancroft, telling his daughter about a young patient touched that place in my heart that releases a stream of tears.

StoryCorps - Listen

Take a few moments to listen to some of the stories. Then think about family or personal stories you may like to record. When you're ready, tape record or videotape yourself telling the stories (or ask a family member or friend to help you do it). Make your stories part of your ethical will. You may also want to transcribe your recorded stories so you have a written version to preserve for the future (in case the recording technology changes as much in the next 25 years as it did in the last 25 years!).
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Sunday, July 23, 2006

Poetry in Your Ethical Will

When I read Julia Kasdorf's poem What I Learned from My Mother (from her book, Sleeping Preacher) in our local newspaper recently, I thought "what a great poem for an ethical will!".

Here's a link to Kasdorf's poem which Ted Kooser, U.S. poet lauerate, included in a recent "American Life In Poetry" column:

What I Learned from My Mother

It inspired me to think about adding a few poems that I've written over the years to my ethical will. That means digging through old journals to find poems that I'd like to include. It could take awhile but may be just what I need to get them "organized" (or, at least see if there are poems I'd like to keep for future reading "when I get old").

Have you included poems you've written in your ethical will? Or some prose writing from earlier in your life? Let me know if you have. And, if you're willing to share what you've written, please e-mail me or add your poems to our blog "comments".
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Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Writing A Personal Legacy Letter

Similar to an ethical will but usually shorter in length, a personal legacy letter is written to share what has been most important in your life with the most important people in your life. It should speak from your heart in your own voice. The words you write can bring a deeper meaning to your life in the present as well as create healing in your relationships.

A personal legacy letter is intended to be shared with loved ones while you are still alive rather than being read at your funeral or memorial celebration. You may want to create a special occasion to read your letter to family and friends or include your letter reading as part of a birthday, anniversary, or holiday celebration. Be sure to let people know your intention for writing and reading your letter to them and, if you desire, invite their responses.

Following is an outline for a personal legacy letter which I have adapted from an excellent book, Nothing Left Unsaid:Creating a Healing Legacy With Final Words & Letters by Mary Polce-Lynch. Before using the outline, decide who you are writing to – family members and friends or an individual -- then use the suggested topics in the outline as you see fit. Keep in mind that what you are writing is a heartfelt gift, given in a spirit of love and caring for those who receive it.

Personal Legacy Letter of ___________________

Today’s Date ____________

Dear __________________________,

At the age of ____, I am writing this letter to you to share the personal legacy of my life. My intention is to let you know my thoughts and feelings about the life I have lived, to honor the relationships that have enriched my life, and to express my gratitude for __________________.

Reflections on my values and life lessons:

What I have valued most in my life is . . .

My life experience has taught me . . .

My special memories and cherished moments:

Some of my special memories are of . . .

I especially cherish the moments when . . .

Reflections on my spiritual beliefs:

What has given me strength in difficult times is my faith in . . .

I believe . . .

Expressions of any regrets and forgiveness:

I regret the time when . . .

I forgive . . .

I ask for your forgiveness for . . .

Future hopes and wishes:

My hopes for all of you include . . .

I ask that you . . . (any special requests) . . .

Expressions of gratitude and love:

Last thoughts and blessings:

If I were saying “good-bye” to you today for the last time, I would want you to know . . .

May your lives be blessed with . . .

Your handwritten signature:

Please feel free to copy of this document to pass along to people you know and use it as a guide for interviewing people who would like your help in writing their own personal legacy letter.

I'd appreciate hearing from people who've used this outline and are willing to share what they've written (anonymously, of course).

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Wednesday, July 12, 2006

"Old Dad" Creates A Video Legacy for His Young Son

I love learning about new ways that people are creating life legacies to share with future generations of their family. Much to my surprise and delight, this week I read about a one in the Portland Business Journal. Their publisher, Craig Wessel -- a self-described "old dad" at the age of 47 -- writes about the videotapes he is creating to give to his young son when he reaches the age of 21.

On a semi-regular basis, Craig talks on video to his son "as though I were talking to him when he is 21. I tell him about what is happening in our lives right now. I tell him about our family history. I tell him about all the stuff that I'll tell him over the next 16 years that I know he'll forget or not listen to -- the life lesson things that seem ever so painful to hear until the person telling you about them is no longer around. I introduce him to himself at 2, at 2 1/2, at 3 and do little interviews with him. We sing songs together for his 21-year old benefit. I'll be interviewing other family members over the years so he gets to know them when they were younger. There are all sorts of possibilities. I've only scratched the surface."

For your reading enjoyment, here's a link to the complete story:

Packing a few extra burdens to lighten a son's journey

Thank you, Craig, for sharing the unique way you're creating a life legacy for future generations of your family and for blessing your son with a gift that most every son (and daughter) would love to have received from "old dad".
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Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Learning From Our Elders

My highest vision for my work with people to create and share their personal life legacies is to birth (or midwife) a society in which the wisdom of elders is honored and taken to heart in important life decisions of individuals, organizations, and nations.

In my lifetime of over 60 years, the wisdom of our elders has hardly been considered -- much less taken seriously -- in decisions of our nation and organizations. And the wisdom of women (especially, elderly women) has largely been ignored.

I wonder how different my life would have been if my grandmothers and grandfathers could have shared their life lessons with me. Would I have listened and taken their wisdom to heart in my life's decisions? Would my values be different?

And I wonder how different our country would be if our leaders (and followers) considered the wisdom of women in our nation's governance. Somehow, I can't imagine that we would be fighting yet another war (this time "on terror") in which "old" uninitiated male leaders have once again sent "young" men (and more women than ever before) to die "to protect our way of life" or "to spread democracy" around the world.

These issues came to mind in my reading of William Bridges, The Way of Transition, in which he says that if elders "can perceive, understand, and appreciate the meaning of the meandering path they have followed, they can play a significant social role by helping younger people to understand the significance of the transitions in their own lives. They can help others to discover the deeper meaning (or developmental significance) of otherwise negative life events. For they have encountered the problems that signal a time of transition often enough to recognize them and take them seriously."

Bridges goes on to say that the elderly "can appreciate the tremendous value of living through times when letting go is the only appropriate response to life. Important though perseverance is, they know how easily it can turn into a refusal to get the message that life is trying to deliver. For in many cases, being unwilling to accept defeat -- though celebrated in the world of sports and warfare -- is a guarantee that one will never learn the lessons that must be learned if one is to mature."

"Old people, if they have learned from the transitions they have been through, grow more tolerant. They see that wholeness is the goal, and that to exclude anything is a brief and shallow victory that leads to ultimate defeat. They can help us to counterbalance our society's overemphasis on worldly success, not by scorning success but by disidentifying from the outcomes of the efforts that they, like anyone else, make. To do one's best and then to let outcomes be what they will is both to acknowledge realistically how often outcomes are beyond our control and to guard against the neurotic attempts at controlling how things turn out -- efforts that lead to everything from defensiveness to dishonesty."

Elders have "the good fortune to live in life's richest phase. That is not to say that they may not have pain and grief, but simply that they can at least see beyond life's window dressing. Their only inevitable sadness is that the living they can at last savor is also running out. But they can see and appreciate the lives they have lived as journeys that they have been on."
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Wednesday, June 28, 2006

The Life Legacies of Senior Companions

On Tuesday morning, I had the privilege of speaking about ethical wills to our local Senior Companion volunteers. This lively group of 75 or so people are seniors in our community who are providing support and companionship for over 700 other seniors and disabled adults throughout Lane County.

As I looked out from the podium at the women (and a few men) in the group, I felt a deep sense of gratitude for this generation of people who are willing to serve and make a difference in the lives of others. With their presence, they reduce social isolation of seniors. With their talents, they get things done that need to be done each day for the well-being of people they serve.

During my talk, I ask the audience to reflect on a couple of questions that are helpful in starting an ethical will. They quietly write their individual responses for 5 - 10 minutes. Then I invite them to share their reflections with another person. Each time, a wonderful "buzz" of talk begins ... and grows ... and grows ... "buzzing" along until I have to bring their conversations to a close.

It's always a joy to see groups of seniors quickly get to the heart of what has been important in their lives. And most people are willing to generously share their life learnings with others at their table. So much wisdom in one room! Will our culture ever take time to hear what our elders have to say? Will we ever learn from their wisdom? Maybe, someday I'll be able to get two or three generations of people into the same room to listen. Just listen. And experience the wisdom of elders entering every heart in the room.

After my talk, the director of the program was inspiring with her words of encouragement to everyone in the room -- to honor our unique, one-of-a-kind selves by acknowledging and sharing our personal life legacy with others. Not to wait. Not to "think" that what each one of us has to say and do doesn't matter. She challenged us, saying: "Our children are not our future. We are creating the future for our children ... and our grandchildren ... 'til our last breath!" Bless you, Jean, for being an inspiration to me and so many others with your teaching and your life!

If you know people (over 60 years of age) who would like to be a companion to seniors and disabled adults in Lane County, I encourage you to contact the program at 683-8043. They have scheduled a training for new volunteers starting July 10th.

Here's a link for more information about the Senior Companion program:

Senior Companions

(NOTE: If your organization, church, or service group would like a program about personal legacies and ethical wills, please contact me via e-mail (click the "envelope" icon below or write to me at:
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Friday, June 23, 2006

The Greening of Aging

Most of the people I've worked with to create their own ethical will have been elders (or "boomers" headed towards elderhood). Among their "hopes and dreams" for future generations that I've heard is for a world that provides loving care for every person throughout their lives -- and, especially, for children and the elderly.

That "hope and dream" came to mind when I found an article on "American Leaders" in U.S. News that featured a doctor who is leading the way to revolutionize the nursing home industry. If you've ever spent time visiting (or working in) any of today's many decades old facilities, I'm sure you'll be pleased to learn about the Eden Alternative and the Green House Project.

Imagine giving every nursing home resident a parakeet, populating the place with dogs and cats, and plowing up the facility's manicured front yard for an organic garden. "Are you nuts?" The results were a 71 % drop in daily drug costs per resident, a 50% decrease in infections, and a 26% drop in nurse's aide turnover! Not so nutty after all!

Here's a link to the article which also describes plans for Eldershire -- a multigenerational "intentional community":

The greening of aging; William Thomas

May you come away from reading the article feeling more hopeful about the future of eldercare ! I certainly did.
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Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Celebrating A Life: Going to a "Living Wake"

A week ago on Saturday afternoon, I attended what can best be called a "living wake" for a 95-year old man I've known for over 15 years. The gathering of family and friends was called "A Wake for Jake". It seemed to me while I was there that the occasion had many of the elements of a celebration for sharing an ethical will with your loved ones.

Jake had decided that he wanted a celebration of his life while he was still alive. No need to wait for death to celebrate this man's life! With Jake's attitude about life and way of being in the world, it was just the right thing to be doing for a man who has touched so many people with his presence in their lives.

After some sharing of food and drink as people gathered in a local bookstore Jake loves (even becoming an investor when the independent store was on the verge of closing its doors), a women read some of her favorite "Jake poems" and a couple sang two songs for the special occasion. Then, with two men at his side and cane in hand, Jake slowly made his way up the two steps to the stage. He had been sitting in a recliner next to the stage before the festivities began, having quiet conversations with individuals who came up to greet and speak privately with him.

Once he was settled on the stool on stage and the microphone adjusted for him, Jake expressed his gratitude to everyone who came to celebrate his life and began speaking about what has been most important in his life. In his deep, gravelly voice Jake said that at his age people often asked him, "What's it all about?" He tells them, "Life's a dance. You've been given a birthday gift of a trip on Spaceship Earth. She's a sturdy vessel, but she spins and twists and turns as she makes her way through time and space. What you need most is a sense of balance. When you're up on deck you're expected to join in a dance of contradictions where every action has its opposite and each act's a game of chance. I tell them that I manage to keep my balance by the way I do my dance."

As he continued, Jake spoke of the importance of trusting yourself and speaking from your heart -- of using words with care instead of chattering on to hear your own voice. He spoke of keeping the joy of learning alive in your life . . . of exploring and discovering something new each day . . . of the importance of art and poetry to enrich your life . . . of the "magical" nature of every human being.

Jake talked about the value of playfulness and asked us to remember to play ... to dance and sing to the music that is our lives ... to fully express our unique selves. And he asked us to work for peace by speaking from our heart to people we meet as we travel the world -- letting them know our desire for peace and that the words and actions of our government do not represent the true heart of the American people.

Jake asked his son to come on stage and read a poem from his collection, A Bird in My Mouth: Poems to Wake Up To. I was moved to tears by Jake's heartfelt words of fatherly pride in the life and accomplishments of his son (while sensing some of my own grief over never hearing such words from my father). After hearing Jake's poem, his teenage grandson came on stage and read his own "I am from ..." poem (receiving an enthusiastic response from the audience). Father, son, grandson ... three generations celebrating life together ... sharing words that had both heart and meaning to each other and us all.

What followed was a stream of people from the audience coming to the stage to express their gratitude for a well-loved man who made a difference in their lives. Both women and men, ranging in age from late 30's to late 60's, spoke with their heart's voice about Jake's importance to them and his influence on their "thinking and doing" of their lives.

When I took my turn at the mike, I recalled (with Jake's help since I had earlier spoken privately with him) how we first met at one of the men's gatherings I initiated in 1991. My memory of the gathering was one of feeling incredibly blessed by the presence of a male elder -- a rare "old man" in a group of mostly "mid-life" men.

Jake remembered a large circle of men sitting stoically -- waiting for something to "do" (something we did lots of in those first gatherings!). He finally got up and went to the center of the circle and silently "did his dance" -- crouching to the floor and gathering energy from the earth with his arms, then slowly, slowly moving to a standing position, stretching his arms to the heavens. I don't remember what the rest of us men surrounding him did -- but we most likely "gave him a hand" -- perhaps even a standing ovation!

Jake interjected, telling the celebration audience that he had then suggested that the men split into two groups and go off to separate rooms to "create our own dance" -- and come back together to perform for one another. So we did. And from that night on, many of the men gathered in similar men's circles, men's support groups, and men's gatherings -- becoming part of a "men's movement" that lasted nearly ten years before quietly passing away without a "wake" to celebrate its amazing -- but far too short -- life. (But that's another story for another blog).

I stepped away from the microphone after telling Jake and the audience how blessed I had felt by his presence at that first men's gathering and what a blessing it was to be here to celebrate him today. Later, when the spontaneous sharing by audience members had ended, I went to say "good-bye" to Jake who once again, was relaxing in the recliner next to the stage. We didn't say much ... just exchanged a kiss ... and looked into each other's eyes ... both knowing that this could be our last, living moment together.

Afterwards, as I was thinking about this "living wake" experience and its relevance to sharing an ethical will, I recalled Jake's poem, Dancing My Dilemma, in which he writes a "Chorus":

So let's go / get off the stool!
Do your own creative dance
While you still have the chance
Take your life in your hands
Find the meaning / to your being
And the balance / to your life
With the power and the skill
Of your own / creative will
Trust your heart / and DO YOUR DANCE!

Thank you, dear Jake, for trusting your heart and doing your dance with us on Spaceship Earth!
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