Sunday, May 18, 2008

The Legacy Walk

There is one particularly meaningful tree-lined street in Berkeley where the trees reach out high above your head. The foliage is lush and the stately houses represent the archetypical home-as-nest. In particular, the trees give the road an other-worldly feel and time stops for me every time I am on this street.

I first walked this street with a friend from my church -- she is a few decades older than me but she is faster, wiser, and far more knowledgeable. Walking with her is like walking with a tour guide who would make you milk and cookies afterwards. I adore her.

The first time I walked with her, she showed me streets I had never seen before. One particular street has now become our own personal "Legacy Road". While my friend didn't suggest the following activity, her views influenced it.

Here's how the Legacy Road works (with the background thrown in for flavor): A few months ago, we were having a fuzzy, directionless Sunday, so I asked the rest of the family to watch themselves (please) because "I need to show Kee his legacy." This confused them long enough to let me slip out the door with Kee in tow. Kee is 15 yo, old enough and wise enough to sense that his Mama had something bizarre up her sleeve. I had "that look" in my eye.

We went to Legacy Road (Mariposa, one block E of Shattuck, near the top of Solano) and positioned ourselves at the southwest corner of the street. (It has to start on that particular spot). I turned Kee to face "up" the road, looking forward at the massive expanse of foliage, surrounded by homes of prestige and elegance. His eyes widened and I said:

"This is your life, my son. The road symbolizes the span of your lifetime. You start here, with this first step, and at the end of the road, you die. But first, tell me about your childhood... What do you remember?"

He started with his first memories, then elementary, middle, high school. As a concrete metaphor, we noted the trees, their age and beauty, how they had been pruned (just as he had in his life) and noted that every tree, even though it had been given identical care as its neighbor, had grown differently. Choice. It's all about choice. He reflected on his many choices and naturally began to evaluate his past.

When we got to the north end of Mariposa, he gave me a nervous look, "What did you say about dying at the end of the road?"

I laughed. Whoops. "This is a metaphor honey. Let's cross the street. You die at the end, when we have made a full circle. Up one side of the street and down the other. Past (gesturing to the direction we had come) and future (gesturing to the other side of the street). You just walked your past. Now you're crossing through the present moment to your future."

As we crossed the street, he had a wild little smile on his face. He stood at the upper end of the tree-lined street with his jaw slightly dropped, realizing that his entire life was ahead of him, in extreme, concrete terms, it was HIS to choose. We began talking about what he might want at 16, 20, 25, 30... Where he wanted to travel; what he wanted in an eternal mate; what type of house he wanted to own; what type of job... all the visions and dreams were beginning to bud. He was embracing the expansive richness of his future. The trees were so perfectly symbolic -- their thick trunks and sturdy branches.

He thought most carefully about the career choices. His focus was on: "How can I contribute most meaningfully?" and "What can I do that would generate the most lasting personal joy?"

I didn't give any answers -- just kept him on topic.

The questions shifted to, "What about when you're 35, 40, 45, 50...?" inconceivable ages for teenagers. His eyes showed a glimmer of understanding that life is much, much longer than he originally thought. It was like unrolling a ball of yarn. Each step he took, took him closer to "being EOL" (end of life, a term used in the computer hardware industry) There was an end. Gasp.

His steps slowed. The steps he had walked so quickly (childhood, early adulthood) now seemed more precious, more important and I could tell he wished that he would have gone just a little slower.

And then we got to "the spot". On the ground in front of one particularly beautiful home near the end of the east side of the street is painted on the sidewalk: "The Legacy". Someone must have painted it there a long time ago. Who knows why? I stopped; he froze.

I asked, "What will be your legacy? What will you leave behind?"

His hair shifted as he looked back up the road, the realization dawning that he had only a limited amount of time to build a life. His smile was golden.

I haven't walked Legacy Road for myself yet, but I took my eldest to walk it after his PatB and I took my husband to walk it today. It is such an awe-inspiring experience.

My favorite part is seeing that little flicker of expression that says, "Walk slower."

Walk slower...