Pat McNees

Writer, editor, ghostwriter, personal historian

"There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle."-- Albert Einstein

"See how the masses of men worry themselves into nameless graves, while here and there a great unselfish soul forgets himself into immortality."
~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

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A message of hope for a newborn

At a memorial service at the National Press Club for journalist Michael Kilian, his adult son Colin read aloud the following article, which Michael had written for the Chicago Tribune, when Colin was born. Reprinted here by permission, it’s as good an “ethical will” or “legacy letter” as any I’ve seen.
--Pat McNees


Michael Kilian —
Kilians give a new son a pleasant Irish name


Mr. Colin Kilian,
Age five days,
George Washington University Hospital, Washington, D.C.


Welcome to the world. You have in a few short days made it for us an infinitely more wonderful place.

A few explanations are in order, and I suppose I should start with what one of the doctors in the delivery room called your “good Irish name.”

It does derive from St. Kilian, a much esteemed Irish missionary beheaded by an insufficiently converted German duke in Wurzburg in 689. But for centuries it has been a German name. Your ancestors who bore it—Prussian army types, mostly—had first names like Frederick, Siegfried, and August.

But my father, another Frederick, in a moment of curious whimsy gave me the name Michael, rendering me for the rest of my life fraudulently but inescapably Irish.

I have richly enjoyed the experience. Though we have bowed to my ancestors in naming your brother Eric, it was my hope that you wouldn’t mind a little of the Irish yourself. They are a fey and poetic people. Their only failing is an ineptitude for making war, which, absent the British, would be a most forgivable flaw.

Some have wondered why anyone would want to have a new child at my age. My only explanation is that one should want to have a child at any age. As occurred to me the instant you were brought around for us to see, you are the very antithesis of the “unwanted child.” A glimpse of your small face renders the term incomprehensible.

I’ve met some people reluctant to bring a child into this world at any age, for they think it’s in a terrible state. I think you will find ample reason to look with hope upon the world you’ve entered. I think of the world I was born into, the world of 1939.

This world was still in the grip of a terrible depression. Unemployment was 17.2 percent. There was no welfare as we know it today, only soup kitchens and public labor.

The bulk of the population lived in rented apartments or rural poverty. Suburbs were largely for the affluent. Few working men could hope to own a car or send their children to college.

Nearly all of Europe then was ruled by cruel dictatorships or aristocracies—and most of the rest of the world was ruled quite cruelly by Europe. I recall so much of my first globe being colored green for French and red for British.

Two months after I was born, World War II began. That war took the lives of millions of people in six years of horror that concluded with the only use of nuclear weapons against human beings in history.

Diseases like tuberculosis, polio, and smallpox were not only extant but epidemic then. The medical advances of the last 10 years were all but inconceivable in 1939.

As you will shortly come to see, all that and a thousand things more have changed for the immeasurable better. And will continue to do so. A few weeks ago we were taking pictures of the planet Saturn. You may be visiting that planet some day.

There is one area, however, where we are failing you. In our rush to progress we are trampling over our surroundings, destroying the living and beautiful things of this planet with insane abandon. By the time you are grown, it is expected that the entire Amazon jungle will be gone, harvested for lumber and plowed for farming. To a child of 1939 this is beyond comprehension and I knew not how to explain it to you.

Perhaps there is still time to do something about that. I hope so. You have made the world a very wonderful place for us. We want it to be just as wonderful for you.

Reprinted by permission of Pamela Reeves Kilian.Posted at www.patmcnees.com

Books, articles, and more

Writing or telling life stories
Everyone has a story to tell. What's keeping you from telling yours? Become a storykeeper or personal historian or find one.
Read aloud at a memorial service decades later
A loving testament, or legacy letter, sharing your life experiences and lessons with the next generation
Learn to write articles, reports, ethical wills, or life stories (memoirs and beyond).
Mom — hardworking, sassy, and full of surprises
Mutual support and discussion
Social history through the life of an ordinary Midwestern businessman.
Dancing, food, good books, and other diversions
Favorites of several book groups
What is the single lunch-bag item most hated by all children?
What heightens the caviar experience is the price of those little gray or black sturgeon eggs.
Links to dancing venues and calendars for the Washington, D.C. area.
Midlife "first dates"
Did she fall in love with the man or the waltz?
Also related: jive, hustle, hand-dancing.
All the dancing your feet can take
Choosing a school of dance
Contra, English country, international, Irish, Israeli, Scandinavian, Scottish
The big ones, with dirty stems
"A rich, varied, and highly rewarding collection," says Joyce Carol Oates
Ceilis (Irish dancing)
Medical mysteries, patient stories, and practical links
John Travolta played the boy in the movie. The real story ended far differently.
Thin little Marian had a cholesterol problem most people have never heard of.
You've probably never heard of this national research hospital and clinic. But someone you know may be able to benefit from it directly and all of us do, indirectly.
Understanding the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and the debate on health care reform. Avoiding medical errors
Dying, mourning, and other inevitable events
"This remarkable collection, coming from personal experience and wide reading, will help many find the potential of growth through loss." --Dame Cicely Saunders, founder of the hospice movement
For those dying, for caregivers, and for the bereaved
Listen to samples of popular songs and music
Girls and science
Cool science sites
Best practices for teaching science--to strengthen the science workforce.
Some links and a selection
Practical matters
Identify children's learning styles and improve their ability to learn.
Six weeks to hassle-free homework.
Why parents should be concerned.
Public speaking is a craft, not an art. It can be learned.
Can you wash it if it says "dry clean"?
Fact vs. fantasy
One woman's story.
Don't focus on the fabric.
Organizational histories
A frank history of the Young Presidents' Organization.
The little lift truck that could — a story of brilliant marketing in America's heartland.
Online Shopping
Best places to shop online