Normally, we would find a true kernel of a premise around which the author carefully constructs his or her narration in the form of imagined events and situations; famous case in point would be Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood where true events are fleshed out and dressed up with fictionalized bits. Yet when it comes to The Legacy Letters, the main premise itself is a lie; it is the rarefied stuff of pure fiction. There is no man literally on his death bed desperately writing and compiling over two hundred handwritten letters to draw out and filter his essence, no such person to “distill into words the multiple essences of human existence” so that he could be known, remembered, and appreciated by his future twins, a still unborn son, and a yet-to-be-born daughter.
The situation is entirely fictional, and some take issue with this, but personally, I have no qualms about it. I suppose those who did not like it would be the ones who were turned off or angered by the fact that the original Blair Witch Project or the mockumentary This is Spinal Tap were not “real” documentaries about actual events or people. Although labeled as faux documentaries, they are not just instances of fake news because behind the apparitions and supposed lies, not only do we gain pleasure but at the same time, certain truths are revealed and expressed. The same can be said of Carew’s book.
In other words, the premise, the wrapping of the book, is fictional, but we should not jump to conclusions nor prematurely judge a book by its cover. Remove the cover wrapping and you uncover truth, the malleable fabric of hard-candied non-fiction, the unwrapped wisdom placed, embedded and enmeshed within the pages of an entirely hypothetical situation.
We cannot just take and judge the allegory for its literal truth; it is the figurative truth that is the essential aspect and purpose of the story, not unlike the mystical and poetic teachings of Jesus, which on their surface may seem childish and nonsensical, and yet, they reveal such deep and profound truths. It is less about the protagonist of The Legacy Letters facing his impending death and struggling to string together his legacy; it is rather our own existential life story in which each of us strives to leave a legacy behind for our loved ones as we all face our inevitable demise, regardless of whether we want to acknowledge this or not.
Such playfulness, the happy mixing and mingling of fiction and non-fiction, is in fact not that unusual in philosophy. It has been previously practiced by the great Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard as he would create different fictional characters as mouthpieces for his differing philosophical views. To an extent, Plato engaged in the same practice as he was carefully tracing his teacher, mentor, and rival Socrates revealing each and both their philosophies in their shining glories.
In short, Carew is a modern philosopher-poet. His pages are dipped in rich and dripping poetic language, but he also traces and delineates not only profound insight but combines it with a practical and down-to-earth philosophy. As his character is trying to guide his children towards a better future, we can all benefit from those thoughts and observations that the fictional narrator expresses and generously shares with us, or rather, that the very children have now decided to share with all of us.
As it is a guide and roadmap for living a true, passionate, and authentic life, we can adopt his views on and his love for nature, music, writing, and romance. Furthermore, we can further enrich ourselves with his balanced view of spending and saving money and time, respectively.
Long story short, there is so much to see and gain here. I have enjoyed reading the pages as interchangeably as poetry, as philosophy, and as both, which is one of the main reasons it took me a longer time to finish reading the book. Nonetheless, I shall try to give you the essence and repercussions of the book’s legacy so that you are inspired to go and read the book for yourself. Suffice it to say, it is worth the time, money, and effort to do so.
The blurry lines between fiction and non-fiction are not the only shades of gray expressed in this book. The same applies to metaphors used in the book. There is no clear dividing line between good and evil nor can we neatly package and define a person along the separating lines of culture, gender, and philosophy. Although we need to be clear about our thought processes and ideas, the answers are not as clear-cut as we would hope or like them to be, and therein lies the god-given or godawful truth.
To provide an example, Carew uses the cowboy metaphor quite often. A whole range of associations are linked to this metaphor ranging from freedom-loving individualism to staunch independence and adventure coupled with indomitable will and strength and the protection of one’s life and property. It is about standing tall to fight the good fight and defend one’s ideas and ideals, while also ensuring that loved ones are safe and cared for. It is ensuring that there is clear pasture for cattle to graze on and enough bread on the kitchen table; it is about sheltering everything and everyone from the physical as well as metaphysical storms that life can whip up at a whim, out of nowhere and seemingly out of nothing.
Yet this is only part of the truth, as there is another dimension to everything. Behind the toughness, there is also a beating and caring heart. It is about both following as well as responding to the call of nature; it is about using one’s will to shape and build events and situations but also adapting oneself to them, especially when they seem insurmountable. It is both taking definitive and determinate action when the situation calls for it but also being ready and willing to let things flow as freely and unhindered as brooks and rivers.
Here is a cowboy in the sense and with the essence of Clint Eastwood movies, someone who may be set in his ways but who is not deaf nor blind to the plight and the suffering of the vulnerable and the downtrodden; he is ready to reach out and fight with and for those that find it hard to defend themselves, no questions asked and without conditions or strings attached. Throughout, his views of justice and morality are not firmly set nor engraved in stone as they adapt to the circumstances as clouds do to the canvas of the skies.
Apart from being strong and strong-willed, sincere, and truthful, these cowboy-poets are also humble; they admit when they are wrong or when they have wronged. Without justice, without love, without harmony, without sensitivity, and without being vulnerable, we just cannot be fully human. All other voices and utterances are a web of lies or make-believe; the truth of the matter lies in the balance and careful calibration of heart and mind.
These are merely some of the many gems that can be mined from this Walden-type narrative. There are advice and guidance for young children as well as their respective parents. The children are told to heed and follow parental advice and ask for help, counsel, and information whenever necessary, while parents are sternly reminded to not have kids until they are ready.
Once the parents are ready, they should have them all the way without ifs and without buts; they are in it for the “long and beautiful haul” of parenthood and they must give their family the best they are. The particular letters dealing with raising children are also filled with details on how to fully be there for them, yet to always keep reminding oneself that kids are simply kids and not miniature adults, an erroneous and even dangerous subconscious belief that has been passed on since those gloomy industrial days faithfully depicted by Charles Dickens.
In fact, I was most taken by the thoughts on money, time, reading and writing. Time is a most precious commodity and gift we have been fortunate to receive, regardless of what others would like to make us believe. Our allotted time is more valuable and precious than gold, and if given a choice, we should rather squander gold before throwing away and wasting time. Time is relative, and so is our age. We are getting old but only as old as we feel at any given moment in time. We may say to ourselves, or others may tell us, that we are old, but if we do not believe the numbers and believe in our spirit, then we are indeed ageless.
This can be aided, supported, and complemented by a healthy sense of curiosity and wonder. As long as you are comfortable asking questions while knowing and being well aware deep in your soul that you do not - nor can you - have all the answers, then you are still young at heart and you shall be well fortified against the onset of old aging.
All this time, money may fill your time, but it cannot buy you time. You can ask for loans and borrow money, but time cannot be borrowed, and once it runs out, it cannot be refilled or replenished. When it comes to money, we should not go “thing-crazy” over it but rather choose quality over quantity. And if you think about it, you cannot buy love, as the Beatles sing, nor can you buy lasting happiness. There may be moments of joy, but they are as fickle and fleeting as time itself.
We all need money to survive and it can be used as a means to happiness; it has the potential to buy us a house, and in some cases, power, and in other cases, treatments and medication, but, on the other hand, it cannot make us a home, bring us respect nor give us true and lasting health or healing. Some claim that money may be a curse or the very roots of evil and that it tends to bring us more unhappiness than joy; we only need to look at the rich and the famous to know that it is not all smooth and clear sailing when it comes to monetary wealth.
Unless you are lucky and strike it rich or you have been born with a silver spoon or have a rich aunt or uncle somewhere across the globe, most of us need to work and work hard for a living. While many would prefer to strive for the higher-paying jobs out there, in the end, they may be merely deluding themselves especially when they ignore their true calling and set themselves up for unhappiness down the road. Yet if your chosen job happens to align with your felt passion, if you love what you do and it pays well, then everything falls into place for you. Carew gives the advice of doing the best you can, but if it is your love and passion, you would do that anyway, even without being asked or reminded.
Knowledge can be gained from reading books as they contain the “flesh-bone thoughts” of one person and are at the same time “immortal in the bound pages.” Books are an exquisite way and manner of exploring our humanity while increasing and diversifying our ability to think. All the while, we want to maintain, upkeep, and foster respect for knowledge, but we also want to leave room and space hand in hand with a deep sense of respect for mystery, the close cousin of curiosity and wonder.
This brings us to the question of legacy. What legacy are you leaving behind? If you were to leave the earthly plane, what accomplishments would you have left behind to be remembered by? What kind of wealth have you accumulated over your lifetime, long or short? If it is only in terms of money and property, you may be able to pass that on to family members. But if your life has been rich in thought and action, the circle would be much wider and affect many more people.
What would people say and think of you once you are gone? Would they celebrate you or curse you now that you are no more? Or would they not even know that you ever existed? What memories will your children have of you? Will they be sweet and sour memories or feelings of wasted opportunity and lost time? How many hugs and kisses have you given to your loved ones, well knowing and aware that they are an impossibility now as you peer in from the nether world. What have you inspired in others?
My legacy is my family. Fittingly, I am writing this on the morning of Family Day, a day designated and meant to celebrate families. I try to do as much as I can to help my son, to keep him safe from the turmoil and the tempests of life, to give him a moral compass to be guided by, alongside wisdom that could come in handy, especially when things go south.
Yet I would also be remembered by a handful of friends and various acquaintances. They will, if not now, at some point in time know that I have always meant well and that I wanted the best for everyone at any given time. I will also be remembered by thousands of students I had the pleasure and privilege to teach in a variety of places and in a variety of subjects. I hope that I have given them skills that they are using now, and if not, that they enjoyed learning with me as much as I enjoyed teaching them.
And last, but certainly not least, one of my greatest legacies will be this blog. A place where I have communicated with readers around the world and some of whom I hope I have touched, and perhaps taught a thing or two. It is the journey of a lifetime that I have tried to set down here in writing as I am traveling through time and I hope that I shall be remembered by it. The burning question now remains: What is your legacy?