My granddaughter got me to thinking about a man I met in court.
I’d sat in the courtroom in Newark, NJ, first of all, glad I was not the defendant this time. I was an observer, and listened to a man reading from a yellow sheet of paper. He was about my age, and his hands shook as he read his composition for the judge. The subject was legacy.
The essay he had written was mandated by the Newark Community Court, and innovative partnership between the Newark Municipal Court and Newark Community Solutions. They treated each case much like a team of social workers– the ADA, the PD’s office, a social worker, probation officer and the judge– developing alternatives to incarceration for low-level nonviolent offenders. For the man reading before me, he was assigned to write an essay on the type of legacy he wanted to leave to his grandchildren.
Playing “Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes” with my granddaughter brought that man back to my mind. He stumbled through his emotional letter to his grandchildren, telling them how he wanted them to remember him as a good grandfather, who was good to his family, and a positive influence in the community.
Of course, it was his negative past –bad decisions– that got him in court in the first place. But here he was with an opportunity to turn his life around, and part of his sentence was to write this letter…to think about how he wanted to be remembered. I thought about him as I looked at my granddaughter.
I want her to remember the good Grandpop, that was fun to be with, and an asset to the community. I want her to be surprised when the day comes– and it will– that she finds out that the reason she calls me Grandpop and not Granddad is that I need no extra reminders of my drinking days. I am living one day at a time so that, for one thing, she will never see me drunk, never know me as an inmate, never have to write me in jail or prison.
I want her to be surprised that her grandfather ever got arrested, ever went to jail. I want her to experience finding out that Grandpop did time with the same quizzical look she puts on her one-year-old face when she tastes strange food, or can’t figure out how to get the top off of the marker. And I have the power to leave her that legacy by making decisions different from my past ones.
My own kids are grateful for the change. But they still have memories no child should have of their father. But I can leave them a new legacy by investing in myself, and in them and their families, now that they are grown. We can talk honestly about things gone wrong, and how to make things right. It’s an opportunity some never get, and I am not wasting it.
A friend of mine always says that if he’s having a bad day, he starts over…right then and there. He doesn’t wait for tomorrow, or a special occasion. There was a time when he would drown the sorrows of the day with Old Granddad, in the mistaken belief that he could start over when he came to the next day. Only then, he found out it didn’t help, and then would repeat the cycle. Now, he has learned to start the day over, even if it’s four in the afternoon (oh, and by the way, his grands have never seen him drunk).