(Reprinted from article written by Cheryl McKay for the History in Advance website)
I wrote the screen adaptation of The Ultimate Gift, which shows a grandfather leaving behind legacy videos for his grandson. Each one is an assignment designed to teach him something, with the hope that this spoiled kid, Jason, will become a better person. A person who could then get outside of himself and help others in the world.
The grandfather, Red Stevens (played by James Garner in the film) knew he didn’t have enough time left to help this young man change while he was alive. So he recorded the videos in one day, knowing they’d be watched over time. It was time he personally didn’t have; he was dying.
During the writing process, as getting into the grandson’s head to write his journey, I was struck by how frustrated I felt in penning his dilemma. I’d feel a range of emotions, of a kid who was on such a big journey with a person he’d been at odds with, who wasn’t even alive anymore to confront, to talk to, to challenge, to ask questions.
When writing the script, I got into character like an actor would do. I went to a cemetery, pretended to be Jason and visited Red’s grave, only to feel that frustration that I had so much I wanted to say, so much I wanted to ask, but Red was no longer there to hear it. Feeling that frustration showed me how important it is to stay current with the people in our lives. Tomorrow is not a guarantee. When Jason finally comes around to wanting to forgive his grandfather for past mistakes, he can’t tell him personally. But there is no question that Red and his videos have had a positive affect on changing this young man forever. Jason goes through this amazing journey with his grandfather, feels closer to him by the end after having been changed for the better by the legacy Red left behind on video.
One of my favorite quotes is by William James:
“The best use of a life is to spend it for something that outlasts it.”
We do not have an unlimited amount of time to make our mark on this world. As a writer of movies, books and articles, I have a terrific outlet to make sure I am producing content that can affect others, content that will hopefully outlast me. I find the more challenges I go through in life, the more messages I feel burning inside me to share with the world (and the more I want to help people either learn from my mistakes or my successes).
I love how in the structure of The Ultimate Gift, Red Stevens left his legacy behind on video. What people can learn from him doesn’t have to stop with just one viewing or just with the memories of what he spoke out loud when he was alive. The wisdom he recorded can be shared for generations to come. The twelve values (called gifts, such as love, giving, friendship, and family) that he felt were most important can be taught over and over again by his recordings.
I think it’s really important for people to capture their life’s messages, in written form or on video, as life progresses. We never know how long we have. We shouldn’t wait until we’re on our deathbed to share our wisdom. Every one of us has something unique to share. Every one of our lives is different and can uniquely make an impact on our family, friends, the community, and the world. The video Red Stevens left behind has the chance to have a large ripple effect on many others as he affects his grandson first, who then passes along those gifts and values to others. It doesn’t have to stop with the end of his life.
And neither do the special gifts, talents, and messages we have to share from our own lives. Find a way to capture your life and its messages, starting today.