“This is the most peaceful, most beautifullest place I’ve ever been.”
It was a big statement coming from a little guy who, since birth, has traveled all over the world. Yet it was here, in Memphis, where he found his paradise- known by its proper name of Shelby Farms Park. While we swung back and forth on a big swing overlooking the lake, I thought about the many names I’d seen on plaques placed strategically throughout the park, on the sides of benches and on buildings’ facades. I considered that because of the generosity of these named donors, and many more who have chosen to remain anonymous, we have one of the most beautiful outdoor spaces in the country right in our own backyard. Because of their generosity, they will impact the lives of countless complete strangers for an indefinite amount of time, adding to their legacies in a way that will last well beyond a physical presence here on earth. As I watched small waves move across the lake which glistened under a bright sun, my mind drifted onto this notion of legacy- and stayed there.
In less than two weeks our world has lost four people who created extraordinary legacies out of their lives: Kofi Annan, former Secretary-General of the United Nations and a 2001 Nobel Peace Prize recipient; Aretha Franklin, recipient of the Presidential Medal of Honor and named the “no. 1 greatest singer of all time” by Rolling Stone magazine; Neil Simon, the playwright and screenwriter who received more Oscar and Tony nominations combined than any other writer in history; and former United States Senator John McCain, who survived five and a half years as a POW (Prisoner of War) in Vietnam before coming home and going on to serve his country for over three decades in various political offices.
I believe that when we reflect on these lives, whether through the eyes of history or American pop culture, we will remember them mostly not for what they did wrong but for all they did right. We will focus not on what we considered to be their shortcomings but on all the ways they stood up and spoke out, at one point or another, to make this world a better place. While we may not have always agreed with their decisions, I believe we can agree that they operated from a place of principle, a position of integrity and virtue that, while not always the most popular, was often the most powerful.
As we continued swinging back and forth, the sun now setting over the lake, I wished I’d visited Shelby Farms Park more often (though it certainly isn’t too late to start.) I really had no idea, even after reading the many articles about its renovations and expansion, just how beautiful it is. It is a place that must be experienced, not simply read about, and it is a place that would not exist in its current splendor if it weren’t for those who chose to sow into the lives of others through their giving of time and resources. I reflected on that, too, wondering what legacy I might leave behind through my words and actions: by standing up and speaking out, or by sowing and giving in ways that impact complete strangers in the most beautiful of ways. Just as Shelby Farms and so many of its supporters have done.
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