I thought about writing an autobiography once. I had a good chuckle with myself, thinking it was not only a self-indulgent vanity to think anyone would care about my life story while, on the other hand, wanting to believe my Legacy… The body of my life’s work… might be of some value to others out there, hoping to learn from the mistakes of total strangers so they might avoid making them in their own lives.

It’s a silly notion, of course, because the only life stories anyone cares about are their own, and big chunks of that story include shame and self-loathing that we would never share with the outside world. Curiously, countless autobiographies have been published over the centuries by famous and notable people, but every one of them— almost without exception—hides their deepest and most dark secrets from the public.

As sure as I am that my autobiography would be as difficult to read as it might be to write, it’s simply not worth writing when you consider the hell, torment, pain, heartache, violence, poverty, and suffering that so many others endure and fight to overcome just because they happened to have been born into the human experience. My story isn’t worth the paper it would be printed on by comparison.

An alternative to an autobiography, and something I am increasingly considering (and being advised to pursue), would be a memoir. This idea intrigues me, especially in light of several writers I have come across in recent months who have been telling pieces of their life stories, just as much for the purposes of release and catharsis and self-exploration as for any other larger purpose.

I won’t name these writers publicly, though I’m pretty sure they’ll know I’m talking about them when this piece goes live, but I have been taken through some terribly dark and soul-crushing revelations, wonderfully bright and hopeful reflections, and incredibly compelling works of written art from people I consider far more talented than I could ever hope to be. I have been truly inspired while simultaneously humbled in the shadows of such awe-inspiring talent that surrounds me as I go about doing my own thing. It makes me a bit queasy, thinking about inching my way forward toward the weaker end of the branch of this writing tree, but I’m comforted in the knowledge I’m not the only one.

If I were to write an equivalent autobiography by assembling a collection of memoirs, it would begin with a story inspired by the featured image at the top of this entry because of the feelings, memories, and reflections on that day, not so very many years ago, when I came across it as I led my grandkids to a fishing spot we were all very excited to check out. Stumbling upon this tree, I was frozen in place as I considered the power and dogged determination of nature to overcome any obstacle standing in the way of survival. One look at the tree and you know it has been alive for a very long time, and the idea that a large rock, regardless of how it might have found itself smack dab in the middle of the base of this tree, was simply not going to get in the way of the tree’s survival. As they say, “Nature always finds a way.”

Sitting for hours with the Grands, fishing, snacking, and just being together, living in the moments (sacrificing countless worms to the fish gods), we were just five people of the eight billion strong on the planet, just living our lives as best we could and trying to make the most we could of what we had. You know what? So was that tree.

The tree had endured decades of challenges; it had weathered harsh storms, extreme temperatures, random stones being placed at its feet, lightning bolts knocking off dying branches, bugs reaping some of its bounty, countless birds nesting in it or burrowing their beaks into its bark looking for small insects. If you consider all this tree has endured and everything it has done to overcome its challenges in the name of its own survival, a long enough look at this tree allows you to imagine that its very existence is a living presentation of its decades-long body of work.

It occurs to me, all these years since I last looked at this picture, that each of us has some visual (and written) image of our life’s body of work. Mine is a little more than six and a half decades worth, and the eight years I have spent sorting through all those words and images, armchair quarterbacking, rationalizing, accepting blame for things I once insisted on projecting toward others, and coming to embrace the extent to which many of my problems were ultimately of my own making, I accept, in my twilight years, the message of the tattoo carved in the middle of my chest; it is what it is.

I embrace the truth that for all the complaining and whining I might have drowned my sorrows in during my younger years, my life – the body of my life’s work – has been a fucking walk in the park… A pony ride on the back of a goddam Unicorn… Compared to the things so many others… Far too damn many others… in this world, and the pain and torture they suffered and endured and summoned the strength and courage to survive and overcome makes me ashamed of all the times I bitched and moaned about minor challenges and minor setbacks that accompany everyday life.

Racing at a slowing pace toward the end of my 6th decade, statistically unlikely to see the end of my 8th, I can say with confidence that I was a decent father, a terrible husband, a hard-to-love brother, a routinely difficult son, and an above-average provider. I was fun to drink and drug with, terrifyingly spontaneous, dangerously adventurous, and far too fond of long road trips. I was always good at my job, loved working with my hands and building “stuff,” and never ran out of stories to tell anyone willing to sit still long enough to hear them. It’s the last thing I continue to do now, and it continues to bring me great joy.

And then there are my grandchildren, and the extensive time I was fortunate to have with them, and all of the things I passed on to them that they will pass on to their children and grandchildren and the generations after my time above room temperature is over. This is the body of my life’s work, and it occurs to me – watching it fade in the rearview mirror as the road ahead rapidly shortens – that the quality of life isn’t fairly judged by the quantity of what you accumulate along the way and leave behind for the benefit of others.

The true measure of the quality of a life’s body of work is the depth, breadth, beauty, wisdom, meaning, and purpose of it that you are able to instill in the generations that outlive you.


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