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Gord Downie Makes Us All Wiser

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Gord Downie has brain cancer and has an advantage: He knows his time is limited. He can now focus his thoughts in front of that cancerous firing squad to create some powerful, joyful legacies for his family, friends... and the rest of us.

If we're all smart we'll borrow some of Gord's wisdom. I'd like to help with an idea. More in a minute.

I'm not making cute. I'm a 'survivor'. I've heard that soul shattering phrase "You have cancer". Five years later I'm still here. I understand what might be going through Gord's mind. What went through mine was "What are my legacies? Did they make me happy? How will others benefit because I was here?"

Gord Downie is the lead poet and songster of 'Canada's Band', the Tragically Hip. In May he announced he had incurable brain cancer. On Saturday night I joined 11 million other weepy middle-aged Canadians and watched Gord on TV sing and 'dance' thru the last concert of the Hip's Man Machine Poem Canadian tour. Thousands of Hip fans stood with Gord and rocked sleepy Kingston long past its normal bedtime. Gord gave his all. "This is me.  This is everything that I am." 

They were there because they knew Gord won't be coming back. This was it. If there was a swan there, it'd be singing too.

I've never been a huge Hip fan. I haven't played their music in the car. But after watching for a couple of hours on Saturday night, Gord got me. I'd now pay a good buck to see them live. But, like many opportunities in life, that option is now off the table. Gord won't be there to sing for me. He may be going through more surgery, radiation, chemo... feeling that disease creep in and slowly take over

Gord is wiser because he can now really focus on his legacies. He can create them, enjoy them, and communicate them. And in that, there's a lesson for all of us.

If someone asked what your legacies would be if you were taken away tomorrow, would you have an answer? Almost all of us don't have one. Too busy. The job. The family. I'll get to it already!

And because we hardly spend any of our lives looking at what our legacies can be, or writing down what the heck they are, it's all handed over to your eulogist to figure it out. Isn't that a little late to learn what your legacies are?

I'd rather live them and tell the world what my legacies are. And now that's Gord's opportunity.

What isn't a legacy? Money and stuff. The financial industry has stolen the word "legacy" and I'm asking they give it back. Your legacy isn't just packaging up all your wealth and divvying it up to the kids. It's much more.

What is a legacy? Here's my definition: A legacy is something I create that connects and enhances lives now, and will continue to positively affect lives when I'm gone.

So, instead of leaving your legacies, I argue we should be living our legacies.

I show how to create hundreds of legacies in my book Legacies aren't just for dead people! I've got a wee bit of advice for Gord, if he'll take it from a guy who has never bought a Tragically Hip album. Yet.

Gord, my counsel is that you create what I call a "legacy letter." Tell us the values you lived by, and tell a story to show how you lived each value. Tell us how you used your skills and talents to connect to people, how you affected their lives, and how you hope it will enhance lives in the future. Tell who you love and who you need to apologize to. Tell what made you happy and what saddened you. Write all this down in a letter and put it in a drawer. It can be short to start, and build week after week, but this is a good start. Call if you need help.

I like this lyric from The Hip's tune - The Darkest One:

Come in, come in, come in, come in
From under these darling skies come in
It's warm and it's safe here and almost harkening
Off to a time and place now lost on our imagination

This seems like a pretty elegant beginning to Gord's legacy letter. Like he gave Saturday night - it has intimacy, truth and a door into his private world.

You and I are very lucky Gord. Our legacy letters will be treasured by our families till they 'go' too. And Gord, your descendants for generations to come will read your words and say "That's my great, great, great Grandpa/Uncle Gord. He made Canada rock."

As Gord creates his Legacy Letter, are you wise enough to start yours?

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Tragically Hip "Man Machine Poem" Tour
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