When I think about leaving a legacy, my thoughts often turn to big fat achievements that will take me decades to accomplish, like writing classic literature or raising well-adjusted, happy, successful children. But I’ve recently learned that I may not have decades or years or even days to build my legacy. In many ways my legacy will be made up of what I did today and all the todays before this one.
If I were gone tomorrow, and the only things I left behind were what I had done today, would they be enough to create a legacy I was proud of?
When I found out my friend Kimberly had passed away suddenly last week, all I could say was, “NO!” It was partially a grieving “NO,” largely a “NO” of disbelief, and completely a “NO” of disagreement. Her passing was absolutely not one bit acceptable to me. That is how everyone in the community feels. A 43-year-old active mother of three and one of the most outgoing, loving people I have ever met, Kimberly leaves a gigantic hole in this community. I only hope my direct impact on the lives of the people around me is half as profoundly positive.
I’m sad, desperately sad, for her family, for her friends, and for myself. I will miss my friend. But more than that, I am motivated. One minute she was fine. The next she was gone. It really makes me think. What kind of legacy am I building today? Immediately following her death, the stories started pouring in.
“Last week she stopped by because she had a feeling I needed to talk.”
“The night she died she finished serving dinner to the high school football players and then stopped by our house with cupcakes because she was thinking of us.”
“She would stop by my house at bedtime to see if I needed help getting my kids in their pajamas.”
“During her darkest moments, she reached out to make sure I felt loved.”
“She stopped by every night for the first two weeks of my twins’ lives to make sure they were swaddled correctly so I could get a good night’s sleep.”
“She never asked what needed to be done. She just served. She just showed up.”
There are hundreds more stories like that. Everyone who knew her is shocked into a sense of urgency to pick up where she left off, loving and giving and making the world a better place though small acts of thoughtful service.
At the beginning of this post, I asked, “If I were gone tomorrow, and the only things I left behind were what I had done today, would they be enough to create a legacy I was proud of?” Did that stress you out? It stressed me out for a moment.
When suddenly faced with my own mortality and the reality that this moment is the essence of who I am, I balked at my back-to-school tired zombie-ism and the lack of meaningful conversation I’ve had with my husband lately.
I looked at all the wonderful things Kimberly did to serve others and realized that the thought of stopping by my neighbor’s house to see if she needed help with her kids’ bedtime was laughable, unimaginable. I don’t really do things like that.
But I don’t need to.
Kimberly was a compulsive hugger. She hugged family, friends, even strangers frequently. That makes me uncomfortable. What made Kimberly special is not the same as what makes me special and our individual legacies can both be amazing and look nothing alike.
We each need to identify the things we do well, be grateful for them, and try to fit more of them into our days. Think hard about things you did today that made you feel good, even a little and write them down.
Now, the past couple of days my presence on this earth has felt pretty underwhelming. I napped today and I haven’t worked out in two days. I am WAY behind in my volunteer commitments. I have been trudging, rather than skipping. I feel surly. Perfect opportunity to improve, right?!
It was hard, but I came up with a few legacy-worthy things I’ve done this week.
I took the time to talk to my middle-schooler about dragons even though it was super late at night and I wanted to get to bed. I called my sister on her birthday and remembered to say, “Happy Birthday!” before talking her ear off for an hour. I got about a third of my volunteer work done. I visited a new family who just moved in. I noticed how awesome the customer service rep from my phone company was and made friends with her, rather than being annoyed that she couldn’t fix my internet today.
Next, identify what it is about those things that makes you feel good or makes you feel one step closer to leaving a worthwhile legacy.
I showed Laylee that I love her and I care about what she cares about. I made my sister feel special on her birthday if even for a moment. I made progress toward keeping my commitments even though it was hard and that showed persistence. I thought of someone other than myself and helped her feel welcome. I cared more about connecting with a cool person than my own inconvenience.
Wow! I like the person I am. I want to be more like that version of me. So tomorrow maybe I’ll show even more love or work even harder. Now that I know what I’m capable of, I want to do more.
And I will do more. Most of all, I want my legacy to be that I never give up and that I never stop trying to be better, even if the only thing I get better at is trying to get better at things.