After my dad retired he gave his time and energy to several political and social causes in my hometown. He said that South Bend gave him so much after he moved there from West Virginia that he wanted to pay it back.
I see this so often among men as they age – they want to make an impact that can be their legacy. I’m starting to feel that myself, now that I’m well into middle age. I want there to be evidence that I was here after I’m gone!
You can never predict what will last and what will be lost to the sands of time. I’ve had two books published through traditional publishers, but both ended up remaindered and forgotten. I had my brief radio career — it brought minor celebrity at the time, but let’s face it, who remembers part-time DJs from 20 years ago? And I’ve delivered successful project after successful project in my career, once even getting a standing ovation from a room full of customers. But I work in technology, where things move fast and last year’s hot stuff is this year’s old news.
For a long time, what I’m standing next to in this photo was my most enduring work. In college, I lived in the basement of a residence hall. Four of the rooms down there housed students while the rest were used for storage, a laundry facility, a TV lounge, and the campus radio station. I was General Manager of that radio station, which is why I lived down there.
For most of those years, the basement hallway walls were painted in a depressing tan over brown. Toward the end of my junior year, I asked the Dean of Students if I could paint the walls in more cheerful hues. Not only did he say yes, but he also provided the paint and supplies.
I convinced some of the other basement dwellers to come back to school a week early at the end of summer and paint with me. We knocked it out in a few days. We painted each room’s number next to its door as if they were digital-clock numbers, and we painted the radio station’s logo next to the broadcast studio door. It looked terrific, if I do say so myself!
That was in 1988. And then for nearly 30 years, every time I visited campus I was pleased to find that our paint job was still there.
But in 2013 the campus radio station shut down, turning off its transmitter for good. Then the school decided not to house students in the basement anymore, instead using those rooms for other purposes. The school even gave the rooms different numbers. Our paint job no longer made sense. Finally the school repainted, returning those walls to that depressing tan over brown scheme.
Those walls gently taught me a couple of lessons. First, you never know when something you do will endure. But second, circumstances and conditions in the world will eventually change, and as a result the fingerprints you left on the world will fade.