What makes a life “legitimate?”


Much like your week, my last seven days have been full.
Full of kayaking and a lakeside picnic
Late night star-watching and being chased off by mosquitoes
A humid run
Goofiness with colleagues and friends.

Unwelcome news
A welcome call
Friendly strangers
Missing the kids and that giant dog


A desire to do good. Live well.

I have wondered – with this capricious news about my sight – what makes for a good life. Now, as my vision lies in question.

The other morning while my coffee woke up my senses, I scribbled “What makes for a legitimate life?”

To be honest, it is more than my little eye that has me wondering this. Maybe it was the ramp up to 50 or pulling away from foolishness or catching a good glimpse of my own foolishness.

Sometimes, jealousy still visits the Reading Nook even though I know better. The pang of not belonging. A worry of “not enough.” An awareness of the hiding places we scrape for ourselves. Failures of kindness.

I know that money and notoriety do not legitimize a life, nor does beauty, brawn, or brains. We all can name at least one scoundrel who is either wealthy and/or a celebrity, fetching to see, strong, and smart. The trick is – to not be that scoundrel.

All these years of “no greater love” and evolution and we still wrestle with our limitations, potential, disappointments, successes…our humanity. We haven’t figured out how to live in solitary quiet let alone in company without scuttling down an escape hatch of sleep, social media, or sedation. Are we living well in these hiding places?

Stephen Hawking does not stand nor brush his teeth nor feed himself yet his mind and imagination rise unmoored to the earth; they create an alchemy of science and wonder which – when conducted through Hawking’s speech synthesizer –  progresses our understanding of the known and theoretical world. He is completely dependent upon others for his care and life; does his life count?

During the school year, I often see a young mom in a headscarf – a riot of color along her caramel skin – as she listens and laughs her way to school with a tumbling collection of kids. Even in the bitterest of cold, she seems engaged as she walks with her children. Some would call her – at best – unwelcome.

A poor migrant kid grows up to want to learn and leaves a legacy valuing education for his kids. He is never able to finish primary school. One of his kids studies public health, eventually becoming a researcher. She finds ways to keep populations healthy among the rich and the poor. Is her life any more valuable than her dad’s?

My friend is sick. Really sick. Actually several friends are – they are fighting the bastard that is cancer and chronic illness. One tames the beasts into Belles, one serves with a television watchdog group, another has a shop which he fills with people needing a temporary job. There are others who are faced with the financial drain of illness and disappointments and may need help tying a knot to the rope on which they swing.

I keep thinking of this scene from Dicken’s A Christmas Carol:

Spirit of Christmas Present: If it’s too hard a lesson for you to learn, then learn this lesson! [opens his robe, revealing two starving children]
Ebenezer: [shocked] Spirit, are these yours?
Spirit of Christmas Present: They are Man’s. This boy is Ignorance, this girl is Want. Beware them both, but most of all, beware this boy!
Ebenezer: But have they no refuge, no resource?
Spirit of Christmas Present: [quoting Scrooge] Are there no prisons? Are there no workhouses?

What makes a life legitimate?

If someone dies poor or sick or young or old or addicted or unschooled or any number of common situations plaguing our commoditized planet, is the life any more or less legitimate than the statesman or research scientist?

And what is our role as the healthy, learned/learning, strong, employed-with-a-resident-status who live three doors or three blocks or three streets…cities…states…countries down?

Jack Kennedy had a thought on this:

“The Greeks defined happiness as the full use of your powers along the lines of excellence, and I can imagine no place where you can use your powers more fully along lines more excellent…than to be in the service of the United States.”  –“Remarks to Student Participants in the White House Seminar in Government (334),” August 27, 1963, Public Papers of the Presidents: John F. Kennedy, 1963.

Perhaps a legitimate life is one in which we do what we can with what we have for one another. No need to count your selfie likes or calories. No need to keep up with the Kardashians. Just get out there and live knowing we are better when we work together.

Get the education if you can and if you want it. Land-grant colleges, tech colleges, apprenticeships, and corporate/company training can help you explore and acquire skills to adventure into professions and trades and language to share what you’ve learned.

Think about what you have of resources. Discover who you are today and where you want to be tomorrow. Look to your left and right; forward and behind you. Remember your neighbors, family, friends, and strangers.

Learn – at least – that you are connected. Your vision, talent, organization, and kindnesses are needed to make this living bearable for yourself and others. But don’t take my word on it. Take this guy’s:

“What we seek to advance, what we seek to develop in all of our colleges and universities, are educated men and women who can bear the burdens of responsible citizenship, who can make judgments about life as it is, and as it must be, and encourage the people to make those decisions which can bring not only prosperity and security, but happiness to the people of the United Sates and those who depend upon it.”  –“Address at the University of North Dakota (379),” September 25, 1963, Public Papers of the Presidents: John F. Kennedy, 1963.


3 thoughts on “What makes a life “legitimate?”

  1. Once again you have eloquently proviced food for thought! You are a wonderful writer. Thank you for sharing your gift with us! Melinda


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