Kenny Leon | Wise Words from My Grandmother
Kenny Leon – Live
One of Broadway’s leading directors, Kenny Leon delivers a compelling series of lessons his hero once shared with him.
Everything I am and most things that I know were said to me by my grandmother or my mother. Only now, I wish I had listened more. My grandmother was born into the world of 1905. She didn’t have the privilege of going to high school but she taught herself to read, and because of that she was able to read the Bible each night before she fell asleep. Times were tough then, but she made it in spite of the challenges. Amid all the challenges, she found the beauty that life had to offer.
She would say, “From my generation to yours, here are some things I wish I could give you. I wish I could give you passion. If you haven’t discovered what you love, I wish you spend every waking minute searching for it. I wish at some point you get paid for doing something you love. I encourage you to find as many moments of laughter as you can. And, oh yes, I wish you a double heaping dose of strength and courage, because most folks are haters. Your belief in yourself must be so strong that it doubles everyone else’s collective disbelief.”
“I also wish you the incredible power to move on, you are going to make mistakes. Make them, fix them if you can, and move on. When you have found love and formed unions and raised children and taught students and built businesses and created new economic systems and developed theories and invented new technologies and produced, created and told new stories and fascinating new ways, when your life is done and you join the spirits of all those who have come before you, you will have lived truly richly and only then, can you rightfully and honorably lie down to pleasant dreams.”
I am a product of my grandmother’s generation of prayers. I grew up with her and my mother and we had very little in the way of material possessions. We didn’t have indoor plumbing. We had an outdoor toilet. We didn’t have electricity. We didn’t buy soap. We made it. We didn’t have bank accounts, but we were rich and full of life in rural Tallahassee, Florida. The struggle to make money is small compared to the struggle to make meaning and purpose out of life. I wouldn’t trade the memories of the time with my grandmother for any amount of money. She would say, “At the end of your life baby, if all you’ve done is stack up a pile of money, how many figures are you worth? Six figures? Seven? Eight? Nine? If that’s how you spend your life striving to stack more and more zeros, that’s all you’ll have. You’ll be rich and your zeros only.”
In my 58 years I’ve learned that it’s best to spend time with those who have lived. So, be careful with time. This is your time. You were born to enter the world now at this particular time with this particular set of challenges and rewards. The future doesn’t have anybody’s name on it. It may as well be yours. I see you leading. I see a world that is a world of peace. I see a world where you are understood. I see a world where humans don’t abuse each other physically, mentally or emotionally. I see a world where politics and integrity are synonymous. I see a world where material wealth is not the ultimate wealth. I see a world where our military folks are looked up to.
I see a world where we realize that a human life is a human life and no one should suffocate. I see a world lead where there are no more talk of ism. Racism, sexism, hate-ism. I see a world where people don’t step over other people lying in the streets. I see a world where every child is loved and every grandparent is honored. I see a world where laughter in one hand and love in the other. Yes. My grandmother, what did she say? “You die by how you live.” You will be amazed how rich and full a moment can be. Experience all you can as deeply as you can. So, live! So, live! So, live! So, live! So, live! So, live! So, live! So, live! So, live!