Breadcrumbs of Unfinished Symphonies

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This is the fourth and final part of an older brother’s eulogy to a beloved younger brother.

LEGACY [leg-uh-see]

Merriam-Webster: 1: “a gift by will especially of money or other personal property” 2: “something transmitted by or received from an ancestor or predecessor or from the past.”

The gift seemed rather small for the usual Christmas gift. Still, my brother tended towards the creative in his gift giving, so I unwrapped the present in anticipation of experiencing one of those “big things come in small packages” moments. As I tore and crumpled the colored paper, I could only guess what was inside. Opening the tiny box revealed… a generic Christmas tree ornament.

I could see Kenny smiling broadly, as if this was the gift I had always wanted. My somewhat tentative “thank you” only made his grin grow larger. As I looked at him, something struck me about his beaming face. It seemed more of a “I know something you don’t” kind of smirk. Or rather, a “But, don’t you get it?” smile of self-satisfaction.

This was confirmed when he plaintively said, “But, don’t you get it?”

I didn’t. But now I suspected I should have gotten it. I looked again at the ornament and couldn’t figure it out. I failed to come up with anything in our shared life that the sled referenced.

Seeing my consternation, Kenny’s face returned to the “I know something you don’t” smirk. “Read it,” he said.

I looked once more at the sled. Though a standard-issue mass-produced Christmas decoration, I suddenly noticed a carefully handwritten addition printed on the faux wood planks. It was one word: “Rosebud.”

Then I got it.

You see, that was the first Christmas after we started The Sentinel, my first Christmas as a newspaper publisher. Kenny knew I liked classic movies, and it wasn’t a stretch for him to see the connection between me and the fictional newspaper publisher Charles Foster Kane. (To be honest, Citizen Kane did inspire the picture of The Sentinel Advisory Board on the front page of our first issue.) “Rosebud” was the final word uttered by Kane and the search for its meaning became the mission we see unfold in the film. This search proved unsuccessful, its meaning therefore being lost forever with Charles Foster Kane’s dying breath.

*                *               *               *               *

What does it mean to “leave a legacy.” Lawyers and the Merriam-Webster dictionary primarily define “legacy” as “a gift by will especially of money or other personal property.”

Kenny liked to build buildings. He’ll be remembered for that, from the houses he custom built for his family, to the many homes he helped create and secure for a whole lot for other people, to his fabulous work as mentor for Peter’s Eagle Scout project, where he showed his nephew the difference between rough and finish carpentry and the importance of not cutting corners even when the work is covered up.

Some may say Kenny is irreplaceable, but I’m certain he’d disagree. In fact, he might take offense, but only to shock you into understanding. You see, he not only touched us in unique ways, but he transferred a bit of himself to each of us. This, ultimately, was his greatest display of his faith in each person he knew. It was a trust in us, a deep confidence that, if he pointed us in a direction, we’d know how to go from there.

*                *               *               *               *

For some time now, I have had this idea for a novel. It’s about an everyday man living an everyday life with his everyday family in an everyday community. Only this man has a peculiar eccentricity – he has collected things throughout his life and fashioned them into a (rather ugly) sculpture in his backyard. No one understands him or why he has done this, but they are of one universal opinion – it must go.

The monstrosity embarrasses his wife and children. He tries unsuccessfully to explain how each portion of the unruly assembly reflects an important connection between him and each different member of his family. They don’t get it. His neighbors beg him to take the eyesore down. The man attempts to explain the significance specific elements of the artwork possess in terms of his relationship to him, his immediate neighborhood, and the entire hamlet in which he lives. They don’t get it.

Finally, the town elders pass an ordinance forcing the man to dismantle his backyard monument. The man refuses and the town takes him to court. The man, with no support and representing himself, offers a compelling argument. He says if the town forces him to remove his display of his lifetime collection, it would be as if they erased all memory of his existence. The townspeople and his family aren’t moved by the argument, but the court is and insists on a recess to deliberate.

Unfortunately, during this recess, the man dies. An angry mob, led by the man’s children, storm the frail structure and burn it down. As the sculpture burns, each person sees the section devoted to themselves yield to the flames. In that last wisp of smoke, the true meaning of their father’s work dawns upon them. They are saddened that they have destroyed the one remaining earthly link they have had with the man – their husband, their father, their neighbor.

But the man knew what he was doing. You see, it wasn’t the material construction that he cherished, but the deeper meaning it represented. This deeper meaning isn’t a corporeal connection, but a spiritual one, an indescribable bond that ties together his soul with the individual souls of every person important to him. The man knew he could never explain this deep meaning, but that each person would discover it only by committing the regretful and irreversible act of destroying the sculpture he spent a lifetime to build.

In the last scene of Citizen Kane, amongst the clutter of tokens from a lifetime of achievement, sits the sled named “Rosebud.” As workers are busy burning Charles Foster Kane’s eclectic collection, they speculate on the true meaning of “Rosebud.” During this discussion, they matter-of-factly pick up the sled and toss it into the fire, ignorant of the name printed on the wood plank. The final frames show the name “Rosebud” disintegrating forever, consumed by the flames of the inferno surrounding it.

*                *               *               *               *

During that final week, I sat alone with Kenny. He was trying to tell me something it was hard for him to say. I assured him he didn’t have to bother saying it, because he said it his entire life, not in words, but in actions. Indeed, if he tried to use words, it would sound merely clinical, as words could never properly reflect the true meaning of our mutual understanding.

He agreed, but I sensed there was something more, something beyond me, beyond us. So I told him it’s important to leave a few breadcrumbs of unfinished business, of unfinished symphonies. One’s true legacy can’t be measured by a physical edifice or even the number of social media “likes” one has accumulated. Rather, it rests in how those lives one has touched understand and live the lessons one has shared with them. In the next few days, weeks, months, and perhaps even years, we’ll discovery these unfinished breadcrumbs. Kenny gave us a vision, and he gave us an opportunity to complete that vision, not in his eyes, but in our own eyes. Remember, the show must go on.

L-pattern right. Fake. Deep.

Part I: Strawberry Fields Forever |
Part II: Twins Never Part |
Part III: Kenny Discovers the Birds and the Bees… and the Mice (Content for Friends and Family Only) |
Part IV: Breadcrumbs of Unfinished Symphonies |

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