They say you measure the success of a man's life by the legacy he leaves behind. I hasten to think that this is true. A man's legacy reveals the story underscoring who a person was and the unique impact he's had on the world during his lifetime and beyond. Many of us pray to leave a legacy of which we would be proud of. My late husband was no exception and given where me and our children are today, I hasten to think that he accomplished his prayers and then some (and that "then some" of which I speak translates to the impact Dean's life regularly has on a little boy who he will never know... who is not his son... but whose life derives great meaning and influence from the man his sisters and brother call their father).
Now almost 4-years-old, Austen is celebrating Hanukkah alongside the four older siblings he knows and loves. A child from a short-lived second marriage, Austen is not Jewish by blood. His Judaism arrives to him indirectly but that in no way devalues the significant impact it, or the man of which it arose from, has upon his daily life. Nor does it relinquish the many benefits Austen has received as a result of being part of the clan, and extended clan, Dean left behind.
From the Jewish grandparents Austen calls his own to the warm hugs and care he receives weekly from the staff at Temple Beth-Tikvah Nursery School, to the pocketful of quarters he walked away with during the family's recent Hanukkah party, Austen's life has been greatly and positively influenced by Dean's and I think there is something in this truth for each of us to ponder, especially during a time of year when differences may overshadow the true intention of the season for some.
Like his brother's and sisters' lives, Austen's life and future stands, in part, as a testament to Dean's. He's been touched by the hand of a man who built his legacy upon courage, intelligence, responsibility, strength, honesty, fairness, and love. It's something Austen's growing awareness and recent curiosity about Dean has reminded me of. And as I discuss with Austen who this man was to me, to his siblings, and, now, to him in a form made easily understandable to a child, I have come to realize that there is no simple way of explaining how incredibly influential Dean's presence in all our lives was, is, and will always be. And Austen is no exception in this.
No doubt, with each Hanukkah candle that will be lit over the next few days, that revelation will continue to burn brightly. For my family, it brings added meaning to the holiday known by so many as the festival of lights as it signifies the extent at which a light might shine well beyond what history or story might remind us. Our festival derives from a more personal and closer reality. And Austen is eager to open the presents that go along with that reality as well as the legacy of a man who enjoyed every holiday as long as there was love, family, and friends in the room. Did I mention the sweets!