Tuesday, April 23, 2013

What kind of legacy will you leave when you die?

It's not by chance that each of the 7 billion people ended up on this planet called Earth in the distant ring of something called the Milky Way galaxy.
From the instant we were created, we were given a specific purpose for our lives which are but a flicker in the scope of the 13 billion years scientists say the Universe has been around.
Our lives are but a day in millions of years so we must maximize what we accomplish.
Few achieve the status of self-actualized, a concept by a psychologist that means an individual became all of what she or he could be since the moment of birth.
My mother, Carol, was in the former Deaconess Hospital in downtown Detroit and I was starting to crown, or come out of the birth canal.
"The doctor is not here yet, so close your legs and wait about 20 minutes for him to show up," my mother, Carol, was told by a nurse.
Mother did so. In a few seconds, I, an unborn, felt the spirit of God come over me.
"It's been a bit long, Jerry (He knew my name before I was born), so you might not live. Do you want to be born on this planet?"
"Well, what kind of place is it?" I thought and God read my mind.
"Well, it's a planet where the dominant species is predatory and they are on the verge of enlightenment or self-destruction through weapons they created but are not spiritually developed enough to know not to use them."
"Well, maybe I can make a little bit of a difference," I said to the creator.
Time passed and I felt pain.
"It's come to the point where you will be born ... but with a birth injury and, as a result, you will be in pain for most of the days I will give you on Earth," He said.
"Well, the pain will keep me humble, reminding me I am alive for a short time and will think no man or woman is less than me," I said.
"Good," God said. "Do you want to be able to have a strong body and walk or talk?"
"It doesn't matter if my body is strong," I told God as I felt myself edging toward the light at the end of the birth canal. "But God I would like to be have a strong heart so I can withstand the sneers and bullying I might face because I will be different than most other humans."
"Well, Jerry, being disabled also will let you know the nature of the people you meet during your life. Those who come to help you if you fall or offer a helping hand in times of sorrow are good. Those who beat you, mock or bully you are evil and you must use the mind and heart I will instill in you to love them even if it is hard. Learn to love through tears.
"As for walking God, it's not that big a deal. I'd rather be able to talk but when I talk or write, please let me have something worthwhile to say and let my words eventually help others."
And, God granted my wish and I was born.
As time passed, I became a writer. I wrote my first "piece" when I was about eight years old while lying in a Harper Hospital bed waiting for a gurney to take my for a double surgery on my knees.
I was afraid and I put the fear on paper so the fear was outside of me.
I went to segregated orthopedic schools in the 1950s, mainstreamed myself at Osborn High School in Detroit when I was 14. Graduated from college with a Psychology degree and after being a teletypesetter for a stint I became a full-time writer at United Press International.
One night on the graveyard shift at UPI I thought about how earlier that day, July 26, 1990, President George H.W. Bush signed something called "The Americans with Disabilities Act."
Within a few months, I was picked by the Justice Department and EEOC to learn it by heart and make it work for the 60 million Americans with disabilities in America.
Along the way, my father, Vincent, saved me from spending my life in a state institution where people with disabilities were placed "for their own good." Dad, a combat World War II veteran and Detroit policeman who died 41 years ago, made sure I was tough to fight for what was right but gentle enough to be able to listen and develop compassion.
"No matter how smart you are, there's always someone smarter or better at something than you. Remember that and life will go well for you."
I once wrote a column for The Oakland Press that I would give all my material possessions to spend an hour on the front porch of our little bungalow on Detroit's Northeast side again and just have one more conversation with my father about things men talk about.
Now, after ending a 45-year career in the newspaper business, I have been reborn as a disability rights advocate for the Macomb-Oakland Regional Center, a nonprofit that provides services for some 5,100 people with disabilities in Oakland, Macomb and Wayne counties.
I work with heroes.
MORC and other agencies helped close the 12 state institutions for the disabled and free the 13,000 people who were housed in them. Those with disabilities now live in group homes or apartments and have caregivers to help them get through the day, just as my service dog, Mr. Norton, helps me get around by pulling my wheelchair. I know he likes his job because his tail wags a lot and he watches me as closely as my parents did when I was a troubled kid growing up angry in America because in my soul I knew it was evil to discriminate against anyone.
So I have tried to make a difference with my columns by showing the innate integrity and dignity of those I write about who may have a disability or be swimming in troubled waters.
My legacy, perhaps, will be that I opened doors by using words to knock down stereotypes or gave speeches to thousands of people in the latter years of my life about civil rights for all.
I think I have lived nearly every day as though it were my last. I know when I kiss my wife, JoAnn, good-bye in the morning I make sure I tell her I love her. We need more love in this world and less stuff.
So, what will someone say in your eulogy when you're time is up?
He was a good man/woman? He made a lot of money? He became famous?
Let's hope it is more like "he/she brought a smile to the faces of those he met. Or, he/she sure made me feel special when he/she talked to me. I felt like he/she really cared and would do just about anything to help me on my journey, to leave my unique legacy."
So think about each moment you live and make the seconds count.
And when you die, the creator will welcome you into his/her arms and you shall both see and understand the wonders of the Universe which is far beyond the imagination of the smartest, quickest, richest or prettiest among us.