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When Did My Desire to Leave a Legacy Trump More Conventional Desire?
Six years ago over dinner, I told a friend, Desire is the engine that fuels my creativity. He said he understood and that it was basically what Theologian Paul Tillich said. (Just found the original blog post about our evening and am reminded that I was moved to my confession by a stunning woman sitting near us in the restaurant, whom I didn't notice till my friend went to the men's room and my view of her was no longer obscured.)
Yesterday, as Pat & I met with a male couple of friends, much of our discussion centered on the meaning we felt from the work we were doing. With the product that one of the men is going to launch in June, I said, "You could become ultra-rich while doing a lot of good," since the invention will help health care providers. And the work I'm doing also feels right, including my current project around helping IBMers understand all that IBM Watson can do for the world. And certainly Pat's work with building a bee sanctuary should contribute to saving our planet, and ultimately, the literature that one of the couple writes enriches our understanding of humanity.
When did that happen? When did my attention to my life's work trump my alertness to female beauty around me? Maybe it hasn't trumped it, but now, it's actively paralleling it. Recently, I was speaking with a younger colleague at work whose current dilemma is whether or not to aspire to a more senior role or to focus on family. "Each of us," I said, "has such a personal story around why we do what we do at work. In my case, I aspire to a more senior role because I feel like I want to leave a legacy of helping a huge group of people learn, since I don't have kids through whom I can leave a legacy."
A Sense of History Mashed Up with Survivor's Guilt -- Powerfully Motivating
Perhaps I'm feeling especially reflective because the longer I'm alive, the more time has passed during which I can notice my own and history's progress. Earlier in the week, a former colleague sent me an invitation to celebrate the 20th anniversary of ibm.com. Twenty years! And I've been around for 19 of them. We launched ibm.com/globalservices in 1995 (which IBM since sold to AT&T) and I worked on ibm.com/software and associated microsites, and then ibm.com/shop -- when we sold ThinkPads -- through May of 2001. I remember being much younger, and being spoken of around IBM as the GenXers, the way some talk about Millennials now.
Twenty years ago, we were also in earlier days of corporate activism around lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) inclusion. And they were heady times because there was so much progress to make. These days, we channel our energy into helping our peers in less LGBT-friendly countries around the world to have positive experiences ultimately. Still, in my self-absorbed experience, it's not the same to help others as it is to feel the benefits directly. Yesterday during our diner-meal, one of our friends said, "Who would have predicted the sea change in our favor over just the past couple of years?"
"Yeah, 19 years ago, during my work on ibm.com," I said," Everyone knew about Pat, but who would have imagined we'd ever be legally married?"
In this morning's NYT, I read Frank Bruni's tribute to Larry Kramer and felt a bit chagrined that I haven't been as dogged as Larry Kramer has been all these years about working for our equality. After all, I did not die of AIDS or breast cancer (k'ayn ayin harah) like too many in our community. And then it's also Yom HaShoah Eve today, which commemorates the loss of ~6,000,000 Jews in the Holocaust. The coincidence of the holiday occurring during this period of self-reflection on desire and purpose only accentuates my drive to channel my desire into leaving a meaningful legacy.
Yesterday, a close relative told me, "You're the best person I know." I hope she turns out to be right. Probably, at this stage, at least as much as being alert to beauty around me, that's my most ardent desire -- to be and do good, the effect of which lasts beyond my life.
After stepping away for a moment, I was reminded of what would make this blog post as honest as it can be: It is true that the longer I'm alive, the more urgency I feel to do lastingly, meaningful work in the world *and* it's also true that part of my decreasing alertness to the female beauty around me is that the longer I'm alive, the less visible I feel as anyone's object of desire in return. With meaningful work, where others are involved, there's at least the potential for healthy, mutual appreciation. By contrast, being intentionally monogamous with Pat for all of our nearly 23 years together, even with the more and more remote chance that someone would appreciate me aesthetically in return, such appreciation wouldn't necessarily be productive.
Why write aloud about this last bit? Why? Because it's honest. Spring is in the air, which is when my mind is most inclined to turn to conventional desire more so than at less bloom-filled times of year. What's surprising about this spring, I think, is that it's the first one where my desire to do good work so powerfully parallels my usual desires.
I'm reminded of getting the newspapers from the driveway this morning. One of our female neighbors is openly lesbian and also in her mid-late 70s. When I walked out of our house in my purple terry-cloth bathrobe to get the papers, she was sitting in her driveway, apparently waiting for her Dial-a-Ride service for Seniors to pick her up for church. I've never walked out at that time before, never before bumped into her in my bathrobe. I waved to her and we called out Good morning to each other. I walked back in the house, flattering myself that she might have been alert to my relative youth. I suppose this is hopeful, as maybe when I'm her age and noticing younger lesbians, they'll give me the benefit of the doubt about still being observant and fully alive.