Living Our Legacies

Letter From the Editor

It’s my habit to read the newspaper death notices with breakfast.

When you’re born, bred, and stay in your hometown, the names of the dead tell the story of people you know.

But I also scan the notices for the tidbits of humanity they divulge: hints of how a life was lived and how it ended. There are odd names, tragically young ages, and enviable longevity.

Sometimes I’ll linger on a listing just because the face is kind. Other times, I’m drawn to the quaint words that loved ones chose to put in print. One young woman’s birth and death dates were listed recently as “sunrise” and “sunset,” a sweet way to describe her as the sunshine of someone’s life.

In the May listings, I spied Alf L. Bloch, age 81, who “slipped into the molecular brightness on his mother’s birthday …” Bloch, the death notice went on to say, “made a whole world for his family.”

Legacy dogs our existence. On that topic, Shakespeare wrote, “Die single and thine image dies with thee.” The names of offspring certainly do help fill the tidy newsprint summation of lives lived. Our professions also help validate our existence. But how many of us leave a memory based on what we do apart from children and career?

Volunteers do that.

Hour Detroit’s 2008 Detroiter of the Year fits that description. Beginning on page 56, we highlight a woman who has discovered a passion for Belle Isle, much the way Jackie Kennedy Onassis led the campaign to renovate New York’s historic Grand Central Terminal, saving it from the wrecking ball.

Her efforts, and those of the many activists who’ve joined her campaign, bolster the longtime commitment of Friends of Belle Isle and other devotees of our island in the river.

Have you seen Millennium Park in Chicago? Been to New York’s famed Central Park? Those urban greenbelts owe their beauty to volunteer efforts and, yes, some financial arm-twisting.

Parkland isn’t fluff. Landscaped oases help make the case when we entertain out-of-towners considering a personal or corporate relocation to our community.

Parks are essential to the well-being and mood of a city. I thought of that last Memorial weekend when my family and I took in the Ashcan exhibit at the DIA (another oasis of leisure in our city, one that’s powered by 794 volunteers who devoted 66,013 hours of service in the past year, by the way).

The Ashcan school of artists portrayed people at leisure. And I noted that several of the paintings depicted Central Park.

Americans celebrate pillars of industry, as we should. But the value of leisure time and space is eternal.

And, as important as they are, places for public play and rest depend on the kindness of volunteers and benefactors to survive. It’s a truth that reminds us of the famous and now long-ago words: “Ask not.”

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