And it’s not that freeing shift that I’ve noticed among many men in their forties, that ability to say “I don’t care what you think” and take action thereupon with utter ease and confidence. Although, I have to say, I am looking forward to that. No, this swaying of thoughts has more to do with one word: Legacy.
What will I leave behind? I’m not worried about material things. Who cares about stuff? I can’t take it with me! I wonder what people will say about me when I’m gone. Or if they even will.
When I’m talk with soldiers who are stressed out and depressed because they feel that they’re not “good enough” or “getting enough done,” I’ll ask them with gentle humor, “So, what do you think they’re going to put on your tombstone? Something like:
Here lies G.I. Joe.
He taught new recruits every aspect of Basic Combat Training.
And kept himself ”Squared Away” at all tymes. He was An Army Of One! HOORAY!!
In the same way, I’ve been fretting about my tombstone. What do I want on it? And how do I leave a legacy? What is the mechanism? Is there an instruction book somewhere? And then, in the bittersweet way that life often brings us things, I received a glimpse toward answering some of my questions.
Sgt. 1st Class Robert “The Duke” Longmack, Drill Sergeant for Delta Co 2/46 Infantry Regiment 2rd platoon “MADDAWGS”. He was a advocate for soldiers right, social activist, community leader, my Drill instructor and my friend. He was the kind of man who spent his vacations building latrines for poor villages in Nicaragua. When Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, Sgt Langmack flew his plane there to help people make their way through the devastation, both physically and emotionally.
For 8 out of 9 weeks we HATED every waking minute with him, yet Sgt Langmack had the ability to make you feel as though you were the most interesting and special person in the world as he had you doing Flutter Kicks in the hot sun of Fort Knox for what seem as hours at a tyme!
I said that this story is bittersweet so here’s the bitter part:
Sgt Longmack was diagnosed with Hemangiosarcoma in January of this year. Like him this was a rare form of liver cancer. He died this past Monday. I don’t know why we have to lose someone like Sgt Langmack at the young age of 58. But I do know this – and here’s the sweet part:
On the front page of the website the family used to keep us up to date with Sgt Longmack’s progress was this message –
In lieu of flowers, meals, care packages, etc., please hug the people you love and do an act of kindness. I think we can all agree that he wants is all of us to Live Like You Were Dying! This is the best ways to honor and support Duke during this fight. He’d love to hear about these random acts of kindness, so go do something good in Duke’s name and then email him or post what you did in the guestbook – that will help lift his spirits more than anything! Matthew 6:33-39
Kindness. Of course that’s what Sgt Longmack would want during this tyme. Not the focus on him, but on how to be loving and kind to others. It was Sgt Longmack’s legacy. And he hadn’t done it by reading a book, or a blog post, or following five steps, or using some mechanism.
He didn’t preach it, force it on others, or insist upon it. He lived it. Every day of his life. And because he lived it, I – and the thousands of others touched by Sgt Langmack– have this thought engraved in the front of our minds: Be kind! What a legacy.
In Basic training, we joked and chuckled. We thought Sgt. Longmack wanted to be a Shakespearean actor when he would recite tell us:
“You Won’t Wake Up Dead On My Watch! I Won’t Allow, Nubees!” I don’t care if you are the the richest man in the world or are living in obscurity in a remote village. It’s only a matter of tyme. Everyone is going to die. No one gets out alive. The only question is whether or not you have come to terms with it and are willing to live your life on-purpose now—before that day comes.
We glorify youth—and youthfulness—and delude ourselves into thinking we are immortal. Unfortunately, this robs us of the insights that come from reflecting on the inevitability of death. Not any death, mind you, but your own death. You are not going to live forever. Death will come sooner that you would like. Love your God, family and country in that order! Lastly, be true to yourself and to Live Like You Were Dying!”
I want something like that on my tombstone. “He loved his God, family, country and Lived Each Day Like He Was Dying!” So now, instead of my existential angst, I have a new question. What am I living each day? I don’t really know the answer to that question. Yet. But the thing I’m more aware of now is this:
My legacy is not something “out there,” it’s how I bring myself to the world each day.
Sgt. 1st Class Robert “The Duke” Longmack. The man who took me from being a knucklehead off the block, to a squared away soldier in the field! You taught us to be Men, Servants and Soldiers.
I and Delta Co 2/46 “MADDAWGS” salute you! HOORAY!
*Maddawgs pic by jcool162000