I was brought to tears the other day and I am not ashamed to admit it either.
A grown man, instantly dissolving into tears at the sight, the thought, of a phrase locked away in my memory for years, suddenly brought into the light of life once again, a truth that reminded me of my father.
My family and I have been dealing with a lifetime of items that ended up in storage when my mother recently sold the house that she and my father lived in for almost 40 years.
Amazing memories, but the other day I came across an item that literally stole my breath away, reducing me to tears.
My father was a teacher first, a principal second. His whole life was dedicated to the education of others. He loved God, the beach, the moon, his students and his family. Not necessarily in that order. God always came first.
He was at times a very hard man, born and raised during the depression, he knew the meaning of lean times and always carried those boyhood memories with him, gaining an increased sense of predetermination because of them.
He was also the most incredibly generous man I have ever known. Period.
Generous with what middle class means he had acquired, but more importantly he was most generous with his TIME.
Always willing to stop and listen to another’s problem, donate his efforts to help and rarely if prodded from time to time even offer his advice.
Mind you this was never an opinion or judgement of others, insights only. It was the only advice he knew how to offer.
No judgement. No suggestions. No directives. Merely a couple of sentences based upon his insights and years of experiences.
It is a framed photograph, my father had signed for my sister, by then Illinois Governor Jim Thompson during the North Park Academy 25th Class Reunion at the Governor’s Mansion in Springfield, Illinois, August 26, 1978.
My father with the Governor top left, the menu he signed for my sister on the lower right.
What really captured my attention were the words within the hand scribbled note he autographed for my sister.
“For Jennifer, Your father was right!” – Jim Thompson
My father lived another 25 years after he left teaching and his principalship, but he was never quite the same. As if part of his passion flame and reason for existing had been extinguished.
In 1996, he had a major cardiac infarction that almost stole his life at that point, but my father was tough as nails and through rehabilitation and pure grit – he managed to live another 10 years.
It was in those years following, I can remember my father questioning, the “why” for this last chapter of life? Why had he survived his heart malfunction. What had he had been commissioned to accomplish by surviving the seemingly unsurvivable.
I was with my father the night before he returned to his forever home. And I remember he struggled repeatedly to try and tell me something. I never was quite sure what that “something” was, but seeing that photograph the other day, helped place it in context for me.
You see my father was searching for something tangible, something measurable and real that he had been called upon to accomplish with the additional time God had granted him on this earth.
It was never about accomplishing one task or even several tasks. My father’s legacy was about a lifetime of work, influencing, challenging, motivating and encouraging the lives of others.
That was the kind of man, my father was! Selfless and generous to a fault.
It was woven into the very fabric of who he was and the day to day moments he chose to spend with those who needed his time more than he did himself.
It was about the students he impacted, all of them, even one who went on to become the Governor of the State of Illinois!
That is the legacy my father left behind. Not a monetary one. Not a legacy built upon pride or ego, vanity or fame.
No, my father’s legacy was built upon his selfless service to others and a humble graciousness designed to educate and build a better quality of life for those he came into contact with every single day of his life.
As the tears rolled down my cheeks the other day, I couldn’t help but agree with Governor Thompson.
My father was right! And the proof had been there all along. His life was all the proof any of us ever needed.
And though it took me almost 40 years to recognize it for myself, deep down inside, I always knew my Dad was right too.
Maybe that’s the beautiful thing about life?
We are always learning. Always evolving. Always hoping. And always dreaming. May we never stop dreaming, that we too can one day better ourselves. That I can be more like my father.
His memories live on forever. With us. We are his legacy.
What could be more powerful? More important? More valuable?
Wondering about your own, “Life Legacy?”
Your own True North Story®?
I know one thing, the secret is hidden in plain sight.
In honor of John Hudson Messerall’s one and only father.
I learned everything I know from this amazing man, who taught me love, compassion, spiritual wisdom, humility and empathy for his own family and all those who he managed to inspire and encourage with his own life story. Amen.
Hudson Ellwood Messerall, May 1st, 1920 – May 15th, 2007