A Window into the Heart


A Window into the Heart

September, 2023
Jeff Pinyot


When I hear the word “legacy”, my mind wanders in 1,000 different directions. I’m a fan of tennis so it might conjure up a name like Chris Evert or Jimmy Connors. Both certainly leave behind a legacy of success and unbelievable history. A name that won’t slide off the tip of your tongue, however, is Althea Gibson. Althea, an African American born in South Carolina, in the heart of racial divide, was the first African American to win a Grand Slam tennis title, the French Open in 1956. 


She went on to win both Wimbledon and the U.S. Open (The U.S. Nationals, at the time), the following two years. The AP voted Gibson the Female Athlete of the Year in 1958. Now, that is a legacy. Just because she could, Gibson then went on to compete in the Women’s Professional Golf Tour in 1960. When you look up Gibson on Wikipedia, one category under her name is: legacy. Gibson died penniless in New Jersey, where a bronze statue memorializes her life. It was 43 years later before a second African American woman would win a U.S. Open, you might recognize that name…Serena Williams. 


Legacy isn’t a measure of money, it’s a measure of character, a look into the someone’s heart.


Though very few ever heard of Althea, her legacy lives on because she broke the color barrier in a sport which, at the time, had fewer than 5 percent minority participation. Today, tennis has over 30 percent participation by minority groups. The bronze statue mentioned above resides on location in Flushing Meadows, the sight of the U.S. Open, and is only one of two ever erected to honor a past champion. I think what is remarkable about Gibson are the words she spoke in her 1958 retirement speech, “I hope that I have accomplished just one thing, that I have been a credit to tennis, and to my country.”


Years ago, I wrote a piece that included a segment about Lou Gehrig. We all know Lou Gehrig, not because of his exceptional baseball skills that were cut short because of the disease that took his life, ALS. No, it was because we also saw his heart when, at Yankee Stadium in front of 61,000 adoring fans, he spoke these words, “Fans, for the past two weeks you have been reading about the bad break I got. Yet today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.”  


Lou Gehrig’s legacy is unmatched in baseball. The record for most home runs, stolen bases, strikeouts, etc. And honestly, those legacies are not of the same caliber. The time that Lou Gehrig came to bat that mattered the most in establishing his legacy, was when he spoke to that adoring crowd that night in New York City. His approach to this setback has set forward countless individuals who, since his speech, have perceived their situations and their mortality in a completely different light. 


As a man who is in his second half of life, (my halftime band of choice would definitely be The Eagles), I am often asked about what I want my legacy to be. Because I identify as a 35-year-old man, I often think that it’s way too early to consider such a question. Few of us will ever be given the opportunity to have such a legacy as Gibson or Gehrig. Both endured immense pain and suffering, in various forms, to establish their legacies. What I noted about both of them is neither fell for the lie of society telling them to focus on the hard parts or the pain, or on themselves. They never took their eyes off of the prize. 


I’m quite sure that like Job of the Old Testament, whose wife and friends encouraged him to curse God and die when covered head to toe in boils, neither did so. They instead recognized the unique opportunity they had to use their suffering and hard work to provide and restore hope to many that they would never know personally. 


I am often taken back by people who pour over greeting cards looking for just the right words when in reality, the right words are in their minds. Receiving a card with only a signature just boggles my mind. I want to know what is on your mind, not on the mind of a guy in Kansas City writing for Hallmark. To that end, my children, every year, instead of buying cards for Father’s Day, take a blank sheet of paper and pen a letter to me sharing their thoughts. 


Their expressions were so lovely this year that each of them moved me to tears. I witnessed an untimely and early eulogy for one of my friends recently that really was remarkable. This man was truly one of the most amazing men I have ever known. My eulogy won’t be like his. 


Just yesterday on the 4th of July, a few of us were kayaking down the White River when a discussion came up regarding the aging of the parents of our kids’ friends’ groups. I was asked if I ever gave consideration that one day, I could simply keel over like the man referenced above. My answer was this: “No, I never give thought to that because it’s not a worry of mine. I know that my family loves me with certainty and that’s enough for me.” I will likely never be granted the kind of legacy that Althea or Lou was granted, but I’m very good with that.


We complicate life when we believe that it’s important for the world to remember us. Who is the GOAT of the NBA, is it Jordan or is it James? Really, the MVP or GOAT of the NBA is any player who uses their money to return to their neighborhood of origin and contribute to the elevation of that community and the people and children of that community. That’s the GOAT. 


The person who sets out to establish a legacy or worries about their legacy will be shocked at the kind of legacy that they end up leaving behind, it probably will be self-focused, arrogant, and powerless. The legacy we all want is something that happens when legacy isn’t a goal or even to be desired. Start working on yourself, become invisible, put others before yourself, pour into the lives of others. That will be the true window into your heart and that is when your legacy will be revealed. 

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Jeff Pinyot
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