The currency of our lives is the legacy we leave thriving behind us. It is not the what that we’ve done, it’s the who we have been in each and every moment; the lives we have touched and what we have imparted by our being. Perhaps, it is not for us, ourselves, to mention these things. They may flow so easily and seamlessly through us, we may be unaware.
I watched Sheila Nevins give her “last testament” on the PBS NewsHour the other evening, but she left me out! Now, I wasn’t offended or anything, lol, quite the contrary. I would not expect to be in her last testament, at least not specifically. Sheila, if I can be so familiar, is a towering figure at HBO and in the entertainment business as a whole. President of HBO Documentary Films, producer of so very many documentaries and the most esteemed awards and distinctions. Of course, she talked of none of these in her last testament. Ms. Nevins shared the intimate experience of sitting down with her lawyer and finalizing her will, decisions on remains, organ donations and all, and then escaping into the ice cream parlor for a giant sundae, one of the joys of life. The other exquisite joy, her son, a love she spoke of so eloquently.
So, why would she speak of me? Well, perhaps, we are not the best people to give last testaments of ourselves, because Sheila left out some important things. You see, I met Sheila in the late nineteen-seventies, when she was a rising executive, already quite achieved (though I knew none of that at the time), and I was a twenty-something waiter serving her breakfast many a morning at the Puffing Billy Restaurant on 86th Street and Madison Avenue in Manhattan. (Yes, I drove a taxi cab, waited tables and did a whole lot of other things in my youth, all glorious experiences.)
Sheila was quite a striking woman, and more than that, she carried an ilk, a certain regal quality, a good thing, but also creating a sort of, “keep your distance.” And, I did, at first. But, as weeks went by, and I shared a word with her here and there, and then conversation, I found a kind, warm and generous person, that special kind of generosity, a generosity of the soul. On some level, I think she saw that I was a searching and struggling twenty-something, and she was encouraging, mentoring and supportive in the most subtle and meaningful of ways.
From time to time, Sheila and her husband Sidney (Koch) would venture into the restaurant for lunch or dinner. Sidney was an investment banker and quite accomplished. He was equally filled with kindness and generosity, no wonder they found each other and have been together so very long. When the restaurant closed and I found myself working at an entry level job in banking on Wall Street, Sidney invited me for lunch at an exclusive and private nineteenth-century merchants club in the area. Who extends such kindness and generosity? These two people do. Some years later, when my first child was born, much to my surprise, a gift from Sheila arrived at my front door. We had barely kept in touch, yet there it was.
So, I think, just maybe, you’re getting the picture here. I am quite certain that I am not the only one to have experienced this exceptional extension of goodness from Sheila, exceptional, yet came so naturally from the being of this elegant woman. This was and is her way of being. And, when our journey is moving towards its end point, and we are looking back over the years and the paths, and the accomplishments and the so-called missed opportunities, we, ourselves, may miss some of the biggest and most important impacts we have had, we have accomplished, in the way we extend our selves, our souls, to the souls of others; not for gain, not with forethought, simply out of the goodness of who we are. And this, as much and maybe more than anything is our legacy that we leave behind, thriving and living as an experiential example.
So, Sheila, I want to say that I hope you’re not going anywhere anytime soon. I’m guessing you gave this last testament because you know you only have a few more decades or so to go. ☺ But, I want it to be complete for you, and hopefully, I have helped to complete the picture.