There are people on this planet that are here to teach and share valuable lessons about life.  If you get a chance to cross-paths with at least one of them, you’re in luck, because you’ve been given a gift. I was one of the lucky ones. This valuable gift comes in different sizes and ages; small and big, young and old. It’s valuable not only because how it helps us look at and embrace life from a different perspective, but also because of its legacy, how it hopefully helps others when it’s shared.

We’re heading toward a new year, a new decade. Leaving behind things of the past that don’t serve us anymore can sometimes be challenging. The regrets and pain often blend in so tightly with the good memories that they’re difficult to separate. One option to consider is to look at the valuable lesson of those experiences, and let its legacy live on instead.

Tom was a retired teacher who loved football, photography, and traveling. When my husband and I moved to a new neighborhood the first year I landed in Duluth, Minnesota (from Indonesia), his wife was one of the few people that knocked on our front door, introduced herself, and welcomed us to the neighborhood.  Our families immediately bonded with each other and we’ve become great friends since.  They have opened their home and hearts to many and entertained them with pleasure; those who embrace them as friends have become their family.

Tom’s passion was photography. He had belonged to an amateur photography club for more than 40 years. He hardly ever left home without his camera, he traveled around the country, and later internationally, to take pictures. Every year, Tom shared a collage of photos with friends about his year-full experiences, put together with music and captions in the form of a video that captured his trip.  It was quite an annual presentation that started with an indulgent dinner from his wife’s kitchen. It built up to a crescendo with Tom’s production as we hunkered down in their basement studio with a plate of dessert in our hands. His work captured the beauty of places he visited, as well as brought home human stories captured by his shutter. Some of them had won awards and featured in some photography magazines in the US and Europe.  Tom had built bridges with his work, sharing the beauty captured by his lens with friends.

From a younger age, Tom suffered from rheumatoid arthritis. Over time, it had developed into more health enemies that seemed to gang up on him.  He had endured a few surgeries.  His medicines required an extra piece of luggage to travel with him. But none of this ever stopped Tom from doing what he passionately loved doing, creating stories through his shutter.  In between surgeries, pills, physical therapies, Tom made plans for the next city or country he would be visiting.  During a couple of trips, he ended up in a hospital in foreign countries because the disease acted up due to the long travel and long days of taking pictures. On the last two trips, Tom walked with the help of a walker. The angle of his camera had gone lower than eye level over the years because of his condition. Often, he had to wait for hours to capture the right angle of sunset and moonrise. Regardless, he never raised a white flag.  His wife recalled that Tom always came home from a trip as giddy as if he just had the best catch of his lifetime.  What a life he created.

Tom bid his adieu last September. Even toward the end of his journey he was upbeat and able to share some jokes with friends who visited him. A few months prior, he orchestrated his final Swan Song with the help of his most faithful co-pilot in life – his wife, and some of his biggest cheerleaders. He planned his celebration of life with his pastor; he picked the songs that were played, the singer and piano player friends of his that delivered them, and the music ensemble at church. That celebration was well executed in the form of an Art Exhibition with his work on display as friends gathered and shared stories, and a video presentation of his work during the celebration. For about a month, he anxiously printed out some 200 photos of his work, on an 8×11 quality paper, as a gift for those who attended his celebration. The picture above is the one I picked for me. It represents who Tom was, standing strong and still, embracing life to the fullest.  His parting message was loud and clear, “When you want to be close to me, look at my photos … the love is shared there.”

What a life to share, what a legacy to keep alive and share forward.  I’m sharing Tom’s story with you  in hopes that we all can look back and thank the experiences that have made us who we are today. And leave behind those that don’t serve us anymore. As we embrace the new year, the new decade, let’s start creating a legacy worth-leaving behind and worth-sharing forward.  Nurture your passion, let it ignite you to get up in the morning and create, pull you forward regardless of challenges. Your story is valuable because you are valuable!

I am fortunate to have known Tom, his passion for his work, and the life he was given.  He never complained, he embraced life as a gift, and what he left behind continues to bring joy to others. Rest in peace, Tom.  Thank you for your inspiration.

#legacy #payingitforward #livingyourinspiredlife #ingemaskun