Legacy & A Broken Hallelujah
Please think about your legacy, because you’re writing it every day.
I have a confession to make.
Despite years of deep south steeping growing up in Mobile, AL, I have never been a huge fan of country music. In fact, I always felt like the odd man out during those fragile years of middle school when the cool kids where discovering the likes of Alan Jackson, The Judds, John Michael Montgomery, and most curiously to me, Billy Ray Cyrus. I was totally stumped, yet went along with it as my awkward stage lasted painfully longer than everyone else’s and I had just switched to a preppy new school. The part of me that wanted to be liked was much bigger than the part that couldn’t be bothered.
So I succumbed to country music peer pressure and owned all the cds to prove it. Looking back, I stand by the fact that it didn’t make sense to me then and it still doesn’t now, not even “Old Country.” There, I said it. Hilariously, I now live in the country music mecca of Nashville, and am married to a man who works in that industry. God truly has an impeccable sense of humor.
What I am a fan of are the rich stories those often simple songs have told over time and the legends who did the telling. You know the stories: about family, hard work, love, tradition, heartache, and a good time. From what I’ve learned, the largest radio format in the world is that of country music and has been for quite some time. My uneducated guess as to why is that these songs and stories are more widely accessible for most people. They tell normal, relatable stories and in that normalcy, provide a familiar and welcoming place to visit. I’m clearly no expert, it’s just a hunch.
A league of their own
My appreciation of this genre hiked up a few notches on Sunday night as I got to tag along with Daniel for an induction ceremony at the Country Music Hall of Fame. Three icons were to be honored: the legendary songwriter, producer, and founder of Monument Records, Fred Foster (think Dolly Parton and Roy Orbison), Charlie Daniels, and Randy Travis. I felt completely honored to be there and stepped into a totally next level cool kids club upon arrival…way out of my league. Dolly sang, and in my estimation, definitely still has it. She could give Adele a run for her money at age 70! The tiny but mighty Brenda Lee presented as did the likes of Garth Brooks and Vince Gill, (personal crush since forever and the one exception to my apathy for country music).
I mention all of this for one reason: the three icons inducted into the Hall of Fame on Sunday night were honored because of their unique gift and contribution to their fans and the world at large through music. These three great men were honored for their Legacy. Merriam-Webster defines legacy this way:
Full Definition of legacy
1: a gift by will especially of money or other personal property : bequest
2: something transmitted by or received from an ancestor or predecessor or from the past <the legacy of the ancient philosophers>
I define legacy with a vivid memory. I was sitting in a psychiatrists office around age twenty-four and in the throes of some pretty rocking anxiety and depression to the point where I hated to be alone and had tons of trouble sleeping. Four hours a night was success. This psychiatrist was unlike most who focus mainly on medication prescription and maintenance (which greatly helped me at the time). The touchy feel-y talk stuff typically didn’t show up in these types of offices all that often. My doctor, however, would always spend the extra time asking insightful open-ended questions and practicing the kind of active listening that would make Oprah squirm.
The Big Question
This particular day I was feeling pretty frail. Upon my impasse of despair, he looked at me with eyes full of compassion as asked, “Katie, what kind of legacy do you want to leave behind?” Mic drop. Are you kidding me? I thought to myself. I’m in tons of excruciating emotional pain and confusion over here and you are asking me to tell you what I want my grandkids to say about me when I’m gone? That is just cruel and unusual punishment.
He didn’t flinch. Dammit, I had to dig deep for this one. As I sat there, something shifted inside. It was like a massive wide-lens movie camera zoomed out and captured my life in an epic, Ansel Adams kind of way. I saw vast nuances instead of harsh details and gentle peaks and valleys instead of the unflattering flatlined monotony of my current reality. It was as if someone took a soft, forgiving filter and appropriated it to my life. It was that good lighting on a first date kind of luck, you know? There was a spike of hope that arose in my soul. My heart perked up like the ears of a bored dog who just heard the garage door open.
I didn’t have a grand, clever answer for him. I actually can’t even remember what I said. I do, however remember the gravity of that perspective shift. The truth was, all I could see and feel in that moment was the intense barrage of my current emotions. I was landlocked in that sense, but I wanted so much more.
I wanted the freedom of an ocean so I could look back 10 years from then and see a gift I gave along the way to others who may have felt a similar sadness. I wanted to give so much, do so much, be so much! I wanted to write songs, write books, have a family, love wildly, throw dinner parties, travel the world, run for public office (it was just a phase), own at least one pair of Jimmy Choo’s, you know…the important stuff! In that moment, I got angry at my sadness. That anger felt really good.
This highly annoying legacy question gave me the nudge I needed to start making future-based decisions that didn’t always reflect the way I felt in the moment.
What I later discovered in our work together was that my psychiatrist went to med school at the University of South Alabama and did his cardiac rotation under the instruction of my Grandfather, a talented and respected heart surgeon in Mobile at the time. All those years later in Nashville, I held in my needy hands the gift of hope and tangled proof of a beautiful legacy. My own Grandfather paid it forward for me in that moment, unbeknownst to him. If that isn’t serendipity, I don’t know what is. I’m reminded of that story every time I want to give up.
I guarantee if Fred Foster, Charlie Daniels, and Randy Travis would have listened to the discouragement and naysayers along the way, caving into popular demands instead of following their heart as crazy as it seemed against the great odds of their humble beginnings, there would not have been a big ceremony on Sunday night. Well, I suppose there would, yet faces and stories belonging to a different cast of characters.
The night ended as it should, with a song. Not just any song though: an imperfect and a capella Amazing Grace, led by Randy Travis. His words were barely understood due to a severely paralyzing stroke he suffered in 2013. His velvety baritone still shone through the cracks though. A tear soaked audience sang along, humbly, lovingly. A man who had made his mark with that undeniably iconic voice stood at the helm of the night inviting us to something greater. He lost control of the masterful, tangible gift we know so well, however, legacy runs deeper than just a pretty voice and a knock out career. His legacy is the gift of a life well-lived, full of peaks and valleys: the character of oak and heart of gold that inspires us to keep showing up, one broken hallelujah at a time. So, my friends, you knew I’d ask:
What will your legacy be?