Greetings! Welcome to this week’s newsletter. This week is a little different - a stand alone essay on legacy. This newsletter is available for every subscriber, and will come out most Wednesdays this year. In addition to the regular update and occasional essays, the final week of each month will be set aside for a Monthly Q&A. THAT’S NEXT WEDNESDAY!!! I will answer YOUR questions and ask a few of my own. Please consider asking me a question about… well, anything really… and I will do my best to answer. I will pick a few of the best to share with everyone next Wednesday. To ask your question, email me at email@example.com, or reach out to me on Instagram (@combatsnuggles).
Martin Luther King, Jr. Day was a couple of days ago. It is a fascinating holiday to me. It is meaningful, important, and necessary. The holiday was for decades the only holiday we had that truly centers and honors African Americans (since joined by Juneteenth). The holiday fascinates me not because of this important fact, but because of the way some people spend 364 days a year fighting against everything that Dr. King stood for then turn around and post memes and pretend to care, cherry picking quotes to post on Instagram. And they always focus more on the "content of one's character" than the real, ongoing and structural impacts that Dr. King preached on and marched over.
Fascinating. And infuriating.
This year the usual MLK bullshit from people who wouldn't have given Dr. King a drink of water if he was dying of thirst has me thinking about something deeper. About legacy and how it comes to be. What it means.
And how little control we ultimately have over it.
It has been said that combat is long stretches of boredom punctuated by moments of pure terror. That's mostly accurate. I will say that in the 21st Century the downtime has gotten a lot more tolerable.
Our team's "office" in Iraq was on the Al Asad Air Base. The Marines had taken over the headquarters building formerly occupied by Saddam's forces. Each group and team were then assigned areas of the building to house their offices. Our team had taken over the entire rear elevation of the building, which had once been the officer's club. There was even a bar.
We arranged our desks around an open area that we called our "living room," complete with a TV playing the Armed Forces Network, and three couches arranged in a U. It was in this living room that we had arguments about American Idol, talked shit about a wide range of subjects (the bulk of which we knew almost nothing about) and had some of the most meaningful and deep conversations I have ever had about life, faith, war, morality, family, and - most importantly - death.
One day we talked about what kinds of memorial service we wanted. What music they would play at our funeral (my song? No Depression by Uncle Tupelo). What we wanted done with our bodies (my brain to Boston University's Center for Traumatic Encephaly, the rest cremated). Whether or not we wanted a formal funeral.
One of the guys - Rob - was adamant. He didn't care. Didn't care about songs. Didn't care what they did to his body. Didn't care what kind of memorial there was. "All that shit is for the living," he said. "What do I give a fuck? I'm dead." I asked him how he wanted to be remembered.
"Hall, you aren't listening to me. I am dead, right? How people remember me won't affect me in the least. All the people who miss me won't be able to bring me back. And I won't have to deal with the people who are glad I'm gone.” Fair points.
Legacy is for the living.
This weekend I read the New Yorker essay The Case Against the Trauma Plot by Parhul Seghal. While I am not sure I agree with everything in the essay, it hit me like a train. In it, Seghal argues that trauma has become so central to our experience of the world that it has, for many of us, become an identity unto itself. And that trauma identity has become a part of our fictional narratives.
She asks "(i)n a world infatuated with victimhood, has trauma emerged as a passport to status—our red badge of courage?" It's a good question. And one I struggle with a lot.
Has my trauma become my identity? Has it become my legacy? When I am gone, will people remember me for the good things I have done, for the way I made them feel?
Or will they just remember all the bad shit that has happened to me?
Being open about my trauma has been an important part of my healing. But has telling my story become just so much emotional navel gazing? Has my self-improvement transitioned into self-focus? Is my focus on describing and healing my hurts blinded me to the hurts, slights, and pain I cause others?
I don't know. I know I worry about it.
I am an obsessive journal. I have been for a long time. I have dozens of journals filled with my thoughts, feelings, ideas, and moments. They are the first draft of my history. They are the words that really help me feel and see the world. For most of my life they existed for me alone.
After having kids, that changed. I realized that while I still wrote for me, I was writing for them too. That I was leaving a record that one of them might want to read one day. I would give anything for something like that from my biological dad. Maybe my kids will want it too. Maybe not.
Barb loves to scrapbook. We have albums full of memories. First days of school. Trips. Holidays and birthdays and regular days. Carved pumpkins and visits to the zoo. Beach vacations and confirmations. Barb has described the pictures as tickets to visit moments from our past.
We tell our stories the best way we know how. And, in the end, we have no control over how others will see, hear, and feel that story.
Two things can be true at the same time. We can acknowledge that we have no control over our legacy *and* want to leave the best of ourselves behind.
I am not afraid of dying. I am scared shitless about what I would leave behind.
In the end, legacy is connection. It is about the ties that bind us one to another and wanting to maintain those ties even when we no longer can. It is about holding the ones we love close, even when we have moved on. The ultimate long-distance relationship.
I don't know how I will be remembered. I suppose that Rob is right. It probably won't matter all that much to me at that point.
I hope that people will remember that I tried. I tried to be a good husband, a good dad, a good friend. I fail. All the time. But I try.
Beyond that, I can't say.
All any of can really do is be kind. Go outside every now and again. Be gentle with ourselves and one another. Find joy in small moments and grace in small spaces. Love the people who make our hearts smile and our brains think differently. The people who change the way we see ourselves and the world.
Maybe the best legacy is making the most of every moment.
That's legacy enough for any of us.
As always, thanks for reading. I am so grateful for your support, your presence, your companionship on this journey. Thank you.
Be well, y'all. Have a wonderful week.
PS. Don't forget to submit your questions for this month's Q&A to firstname.lastname@example.org!