The title of this post is misleading in a way because, though I really did a lot of stupid things in my youth, it is indisputable that I had way too much fun doing it. Which is why I regret those years for the wrong, hurt or pain I’m sure I caused others and myself during those reckless years of youth but I would never trade those years for anything.
With the passing of my beloved father earlier this week I find that I am now obsessed with the word ‘legacy’. As I wrestle with his passing while eagerly taking in all the stories of his life, I am further impressed by the man and the legacy that he left behind.
For most people who have passed on we remember all of the good things they did in mortality (because no one wants to be the imbecile that points out the sins, misdeeds and misfortunes of the dead). There are those of the dead however, who carry names like John Wayne Gacy, Gary Ridgway or Jeffrey Dahmer – those guys had a different kind of legacy that we would all rather forget.
In Polynesian cultures (as I’m sure is the case in most cultures of the world), we are born into and raised in a society that reveres those who elevate their status through hard work, determination and ingenuity. Most often than not, we are driven to excel by parents or elders whom themselves were driven to improve their situation. And the underlying message that often regularly pops up in conversation with those who have succeeded in various life spheres is that they had a fear of disappointing their loved ones.
Some common sentiments in Samoa are:
“Manatua le igoa o loo e tauaveina.” (Remember the name you carry – referring most often to a surnanme or family name.)
“Tautuana ma oe le tatou aiga ma le tatou alaalafaga.” (Remember that you represent our family and your village.)
“Se mea ne’’i ta’uvalea pe faalumaina le tatou aiga ‘i ou uiga.” (Be cautious and avoid embarrassing our family with your actions.)
There are various ways to express one common emotion and message that is summed up in a familiar Samoan phrase, “Vaai lau tu, o lau savali, o lau tautala aua e faamasinoina ai ‘oe.” (Be wary of the way you stand, walk and talk because you will be judged by these things.)
Needless to say that in my youthful, underdeveloped, stubborn and precocious mind none of these bore weight because the world was an erratic, twisted mass of clichés that was malleable and I bent and twisted it to my youthful will and hearts delight.
To my 16-year-old self I would say:
1) You’re an idiot so listen very closely to the advice of your parents. They may not completely understand what you are going through because their world was totally different from the world you live in, but they understand and love you! And because of that love and understanding, they want to help prevent heartaches, broken bones, disappointments and alleviate your fears. Whether you were born in Biblical times or in modern times, this one truth is universal – parents almost always know best.
2) You’re lame and the weird “Purple Rain” haircut, baggy jeans and cut-off muscle tee’s do not enhance your look, they just make you look stupid. Yes, your youth is a time of self-expression and ‘finding yourself’ (a phrase that is strangely and tragically common amongst 25-70-year olds too) but it does not give you license to put down and mistreat others because they don’t look, act and speak like you do. 40-year-old you is just going to look back and think, “Man, I was really lame in that Adidas track suit and that Kangol hat.”
3) Store the Hormones for a wedding day because no girl in her right mind is going to want to marry a guy (or worse get pregnant by that guy) without a high school diploma and a future. At least not the girls I grew up with. There is plenty of time to hang out, a lot more time to properly impress the girls with the sultry looks and the double layer of acne. Right now you need to hit the books and prepare yourself for manhood which does NOT happen when you blow out 16 candles.
There are a million more things I would love to say to ‘16-year-old me’ and yet the irony is, had I not experienced the things I did in my youth and throughout my life, I would have missed out on all the things that make me who I am today – problems, accidents, mishaps and moral offences aside I think I’m okay with who I am today.
Which brings me back to my obsession with the word ‘legacy.’ My dad carved out a pretty good one for himself and I am very proud of him and all that he did in life. I’m sure he had a few regrets just as I do. But since we can’t go back and correct the things we did or did not do, we have to live with the decisions we made when the time for those choices took place.
A legacy is really the only thing that endures when we are gone. What legacy are you leaving behind?