Everybody has a story. We are all raised somehow, somewhere, by somebody. We are influenced, and we have experiences – good and bad – that shape us. At the end of our lives we leave a footprint, a legacy. Some legacies endure for eternity such as Socrates, Aristotle, DaVinci, and maybe our own George Washington. For most of us our legacies are much more fleeting than these bold examples of humanity. We may be remembered by our friends, and perhaps by our family for a generation or two. But what do they remember and what stories are passed down?
These ruminations came to me after participating in a recent statewide Opiate Crisis Conversation. After the conference I went to dinner with my son who is in his 30s. He told me the story of his roommate who I will call Nick. Nick never met his father, we don’t even know if Nick knows his father’s name. Nick’s dad left his mother when she was pregnant and never came back. Nick’s memories of his mother are that she was a drug addict. That’s how he pictures her, that is his memory of her, that’s what he says when he talks about her. We don’t know what drugs she took, we don’t know if she had a job or where she lived. But we do know she was a drug addict.
Because of his mom’s addiction, Nick was raised by his grandparents. When Nick did spend time with his mom he remembers danger and fear. His mom would take him on adventures, but not to Cedar Point. His adventures were accompanying his mom when she bought drugs. Instead of visiting the library or staying home and reading, he saw his mom beaten up by boyfriends. These are his memories of his mother. Nick’s mom died from the ravages of drug abuse before he graduated from high school. He went on to graduate from college and has steady employment with a good company.
When you think about what Nick saw, what he experienced as a very young and impressionable child, what his grandparents were feeling, and the total hopelessness and despair of his mother, it is heartbreaking. Every one of them, each in their own way were impacted, were terrified, were living on the edge, and all of them lost a piece of their soul. His mother lost her life.
His grandparents became his loving parents raising their grandchild while watching their own daughter dissolve under the spell of drugs. They were parents who watched their adult child lie, cheat and steal because of the craving and dependency that drew her in more and more each day, promising to relieve the pain and ironically killing her at the same time. Imagine the fear felt by grandparents for their grandchild when he spent time with his mother and the stress of raising their grandchild while watching their own child self-destruct. In a different time and a different place they would have been enjoying retirement, instead they were surviving day to day, but not really living.
Then I think of the ripple effect of one person’s actions on a community and on a family. Nick’s grandparents were stable, law abiding citizens, they were you and me and our neighbors, so was his mom, so is he. But Nick’s mom took a turn, a wrong turn and never recovered. She ended up dying at a young age, leaving behind a son who talks about her in terms of her drug use, and how he saw her treated. That is her legacy. That is her footprint.
Nick is in his 30’s now, and doesn’t have a serious relationship. I don’t know if he ever will. His filter, his frame of reference if you will, is something I cannot even begin to fathom. What is even more profound is that this story isn’t a rare or an isolated incident. I am aware of many stories like this, so many that I have lost count. So I circle back to my original thought. Everyone has a story, and everyone leaves a footprint. We all hurt people and are hurt by people. We all have successes and failures and make mistakes. Sometimes we recover, sometimes we don’t. As a parent, a sibling, a spouse, a friend, and a daughter, I hope that my legacy transcends my mistakes and that the world is gentle when (and if) I am remembered. When I think of all the lost souls, the wasted lives, and the fact that each of us is one decision away from being there, I am very grateful for today. That is my story. What is your story?
Kyle White is a County Extension Educator in Medina County (Western Reserve EERA).