So I thought, “I will talk about death.” Seemed to be the passion today. Actually, it’s not about death. It’s inevitable, terrible, but really what I want to talk about is, I’m just fascinated by the legacy people leave when they die. That’s what I want to talk about.
So Art Buchwald left his legacy of humor with a video that appeared soon after he died, saying, “Hi! I’m Art Buchwald, and I just died.”
And Mike, who I met at Galapagos, a trip which I won at TED, is leaving notes on cyberspace where he is chronicling his journey through cancer.
And my father left me a legacy of his handwriting through letters and a notebook. In the last two years of his life, when he was sick, he filled a notebook with his thoughts about me. He wrote about my strengths, weaknesses, and gentle suggestions for improvement, quoting specific incidents, and held a mirror to my life.
After he died, I realized that no one writes to me anymore.
Handwriting is a disappearing art. I’m all for email and thinking while typing, but why give up old habits for new?
Why can’t we have letter writing and email exchange in our lives?
There are times when I want to trade all those years that I was too busy to sit with my dad and chat with him, and trade all those years for one hug. But too late. But that’s when I take out his letters and I read them, and the paper that touched his hand is in mine, and I feel connected to him.
So maybe we all need to leave our children with a value legacy, and not a financial one. A value for things with a personal touch — an autograph book, a soul-searching letter. If a fraction of this powerful TED audience could be inspired to buy a beautiful paper — John, it’ll be a recycled one — and write a beautiful letter to someone they love, we actually may start a revolution where our children may go to penmanship classes.
So what do I plan to leave for my son?
I collect autograph books, and those of you authors in the audience know I hound you for them — and CDs too, Tracy. I plan to publish my own notebook. As I witnessed my father’s body being swallowed by fire, I sat by his funeral pyre and wrote.
I have no idea how I’m going to do it, but I am committed to compiling his thoughts and mine into a book, and leave that published book for my son.
I’d like to end with a few verses of what I wrote at my father’s cremation. And those linguists, please pardon the grammar, because I’ve not looked at it in the last 10 years. I took it out for the first time to come here.
“Picture in a frame, ashes in a bottle, boundless energy confined in the bottle, forcing me to deal with reality, forcing me to deal with being grown up. I hear you and I know that you would want me to be strong, but right now, I am being sucked down, surrounded and suffocated by these raging emotional waters, craving to cleanse my soul, trying to emerge on a firm footing one more time, to keep on fighting and flourishing just as you taught me. Your encouraging whispers in my whirlpool of despair, holding me and heaving me to shores of sanity, to live again and to love again.”