Life and Legacy

In Inspiration, She's Touching Lives by Stephanie Baker

The unexpected passing of a dear friend prompted a serious discussion about legacy. While Ottie was no stranger to missteps or hardship, he’d consistently approached life with a joy that was almost otherworldly. Nothing seemed to get this guy down. He openly voiced gratitude at life’s unexpected blessings and wept at his perpetual good fortune. He chuckled at himself when he recalled his own dumb decisions, laughing them off as a child who had successfully pulled off an epic prank. 

No matter the circumstances, this guy always came out on top. He owned his own business, yet he never seemed as though he was working. He loved to travel, and seized every opportunity to see, do, or experience something new. 

Ottie left behind amazing children, solid in their beliefs and resolute in their convictions, with a strong work ethic to boot. They all but worshipped their father. How many twenty-somethings prefer to hang out with their dad than enjoy an intoxicating night out with friends?

He was fun, mixed with a healthy dose of crazy.

He told his daughter he wanted to jump off the new 65-foot-high, segmental span bridge that had recently been constructed in our city. She excitedly agreed. He stopped by my husband’s office to say hello, and when asked what’s new, he replied, “I’m getting ready to jump off the bridge with Cami.” Knowing his propensity for the outrageous, my husband didn’t put it past him. He warned him he wasn’t using sound judgment, not realizing he would jump off the bridge moments later.  

As we visited him in the hospital that evening, disregarding his back pain, he let out a hearty, belly laugh, at the legendary memory he’d made with his daughter. He admitted it wasn’t the most responsible parenting decision he’d ever made, but instead of focusing on what went wrong, he delighted in the joy of the memory. 

Yet another time, he took a cross-country, coast-to-coast trip on his Harley Davidson, with one of his adult children on the back. They stopped at whatever caught their fancy along the way. We received a daily play-by-play, via text messaging, chronicling the awesome, and the mundane. We laughed with him as he shared stories of greasy diners, and creepy truck stops across the country. And, we were misty-eyed when he sent videos of himself, weeping at the majesty and wonder of the Grand Canyon.

How did our jokester friend, who embodied real-life Peter Pan syndrome, do it? He seemed to have found the secret. I’m determined to tap into these secrets and apply them to my own life.

Here is what I learned from the highlight reel of his life.

Find Joy

Never take yourself, or life too seriously. Remembering within each trial and every victory, there is joy to discover in the journey. Joy is an internal state of being, and quite different from happiness, which is based upon circumstance. Discovering the difference and embracing both, is the key to navigating life and business successfully.  Laughter keeps wonder and excitement alive and reminds us we are only as young as we feel. The ability to laugh at ourselves doesn’t allow us to get bogged down with negativity.   Our friend not only believed, but lived, that even in dark times, there was always something to smile about.

Say Yes

Occasionally there are grand opportunities that arise. We sashay through those doors with the poetic moves of a dancer, rejoicing at our good fortune. More frequently, subtle opportunities come along that can be equally as rewarding IF we are open to recognizing them.  

One afternoon, it came up in conversation that we had never been to Vegas. Without hesitation he announced, “So when are we going?” He called that evening to say he’d booked his flight.  If there was an event, a chance to meet a friend for coffee or create a memory, he jumped on it. He was intent on living a life without regret. He wanted to taste all the foods, visit every place, and tackle every challenge dangling in front of him. 

Days before my friend passed, he wanted to learn how to wake surf. He insisted I record the experience because “we need proof for Facebook or no one will ever believe I did this.”  I assured him, if Facebook would believe anyone was able to jump right up on a wakeboard, at our age, AND having never done it before, they’d believe he did. And he did. The point is to seize every moment, no matter how big or small, and say YES! He was able to take that memory with him to the grave. I can still see that smile, glowing ear-to-ear, when he realized he was actually doing it. He all but begged me to try. I told him he was crazy and I’d stay safely in the boat. I regret that now. 

Extend Grace

Ottie struggled in some areas (don’t we all?!?). In fact, he battled with substance issues.  He never tried to hide his past, but he also didn’t get bogged down because of it. 

Ottie lived with intention.  Intention is taking responsibility for your own life, actions and decisions.

He worked to encourage other victims, assuring them that they could also overcome. He lived a life of authenticity, making him approachable by everyone.

Ottie became an ambassador of grace, extending the hand of friendship and help to others, as well as himself. He made it a point to employ people who had battled addiction. Because of their pasts, they were considered unemployable by most, and yet he offered them a chance to start anew. In doing so, he was always reminded of the grace that had be extended to him.

Grace is not a one-way street and should be traveled in both directions. Remember when you’re serving grace, to dish yourself a hearty helping. 

Live Passionately

Vincent Van Gogh is quoted as saying, “I’d rather die of passion than of boredom.” Possibly the greatest gift you could ever give yourself is to live passionately. To be passionate means to embrace life’s frustrations and pains, joys & successes, feeling and drinking in each experience and each moment to the fullest, and to the best of our abilities. 

Ottie woke early in the morning and started his day journaling, giving thanks for his overwhelming blessings and setting his goals for the day. 

I believe I’ve adequately described our friend’s affinity for fun, but I want to emphasize his passion for life spilled over into his professional and personal relationships. 

We often teased he only worked to support his obsession with travel, and this may be mildly true. But I would be remiss in not pointing out that he was an entrepreneur. He’d owned multiple businesses over the years, each successful in their own right. 

He reinvented himself many times over the years, sometimes out of curiosity, other times out of necessity.

Regardless of the circumstances, he got back up, reinvented, recreated, and rebounded.

The same was true in relationships. He was a friend to everyone. There were 600 people at his funeral. Six hundred people!!! 

He wasn’t a dignitary, nor a prominent man in society. He was an ordinary guy who collected friends, like gathering stars. A friend to the friend AND a friend to the friendless. He could relate to everyone: the businessman, the preacher, the waitress, the addict and the millionaire. This was not due to happenstance. He started and lived each day with passion as his goal. We were created to live in community, and its growth and sustenance is birthed in passion. 

Be Prepared

We were somewhat amazed to discover, he’d planned well for his children in the event of his passing. Ever full of surprises, this may have been the most surprising of all. My husband, a CPA beamed with pride at discovering he’d left behind a financial legacy that could, if handled properly, affect the future of his children in a significantly positive way. 

Being cautious to a fault. Both mine and my husband’s professions and upbringing lend themselves to planning and frugality. Ottie would encourage us to lighten up a bit. When he’d try to get us to join him on one of his many adventures, he’d say, “You need to stop living in the future and live a little bit right here and now.” We laughed it off and usually agreed that we both could learn from each other. There should be a balance between living in the now and preparing for the unforeseen.  Little did we know, he’d been taking our advice. We are still learning from his.

Many dictionaries define legacy as an amount of money left to someone in the event of their passing. The wisest of all individuals recognize a legacy is comprised of tangible and intangible perspectives on the things most important. 

Most of us will never have our name written in history books, but that does not lessen the relevance in creating a life of meaning. It is a power that, if embraced, allows us to live fully in the present. Legacy is often not recognized until one passes and is gone, but it has everything to do with life and living.