An enduring work

15 comments on An enduring work
3 minutes
Me at WMHD
Canon PowerShot S95, 2012

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.

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15 responses to “An enduring work”

  1. Andy Umbo Avatar
    Andy Umbo

    Sorry to hear the radio station closed! As I’ve lived all over, not unusual to find most “alt” programming radio stations in cities to have been started by engineering schools, or schools with large engineering departments. Milwaukee School of Engineering (MSOE) has had a radio station for a long, long time WMSE, and has been a valuable asset to the music loving community. Starting as a low power station, it eventually upped its “juice” and quality to be viable all over the extended metroplex. Their offering all musical genres has, in some eras, literally forced those local horrible rock station that can’t stop playing Fleetwood Mac and Bob Segar, to have to adopt new wave, punk and other alt programming to be competitive. To this day, they have the only jazz programming left in the city, as well as an all instrumental program that’s been going on for more years than Hearts of Space has been syndicated, and ditto, an over 30 year Sunday morning program of big band that people stream from all over the country! Sorry your school shuttered that station!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      There used to be lots of little college alternative stations and when I drove the country I’d tune around listening for them. Not any more.

  2. DougD Avatar

    I don’t think I’m leaving much of a mark in the world. I guess I’ve worked on a lot of big projects (no standing ovations) but that’s not permanent. Many of the plants I did work in early in my career have closed. So I do the best I can with my little life, and leave it to the kids to move forward.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      The truth is, almost none of us leave a lasting mark. We all need to be satisfied with our little lives!

  3. -N- Avatar

    To dust we return….but let’s do good while we are here!

    1. Jim Grey Avatar
  4. Marc Beebe Avatar

    “Ozymandias” comes to mind. :D In other words, we should never do things to be remembered by but rather because they are the right thing to do. I’m sure the world will little note nor long remember (A. Lincoln) my efforts on this planet but they just may have had some effect somewhere. Positive, I hope.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      It’s great when we are remembered for a while, but yes, it should not be our goal.

  5. brandib1977 Avatar

    Sobering thought – the legacies we leave. I wouldn’t begin to know what mine is.

    It positively sucks that someone would think basic tan is better than this. Remember though, your most lasting legacy is the impact you have on people here on your blog, through your mentoring others at work and through your kids and family.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I think that if we manage to do no (or very little) harm, we’ve won the game.

      I love it that my blog has had the reach it has had, but I am not deluded that it will survive me! Fortunately, barring catastrophe, I still have at least a quarter century ahead!

      1. brandib1977 Avatar

        You never know what your readers will take away and pass on to others around then. Here’s to longevity!

  6. Louis A. Sousa Avatar
    Louis A. Sousa

    Thanks for this one! Being middle-aged, I often harbor similar thoughts about my legacy. Kind regards, Louis.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I’m happy it connected with you!

  7. J P Avatar

    Your handiwork had a good run. I have concluded that the only real legacy I will leave behind is the three children I had a hand in raising. And I’m good with that.

    1. Jim Grey Avatar

      I think we have to be good with that. It’s the best 99.9% of us can hope for!

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