It is strange how an isolated act or a passing association with a person or an event can immortalize some men who might otherwise have been born, lived, and gone to their graves cloaked in anonymity. What reason, for instance, would the world have to know that Simon of Cyrene ever lived, except for the fact that he was seized by the Roman soldiers and made to help Jesus carry his cross to Calvary? Would we have ever heard of or had cause to remember Major Andre if he had not been associated with Benedict Arnold? Would Malala ever have come to the attention of the world if she had not been shot and left for dead for wanting an education? These individuals will be remembered for ages upon ages less for their own personal greatness than for being in a certain place at a particular time.
This simple truth makes me stop and think. I don’t expect I will be remembered for more than a generation or two after my death. So what will be my legacy? What impact will my life have had? In great anger, someone once said to me that the world would be a better place when I am dead. With very little thought and reflection, I am able to turn that around and say to myself, “I sure hope so!” I hope that when I leave the world I will be able to look back on it and see that I have done something to impact the world in a positive way. Is my corner of the world better because I have lived in it? Have I made a positive change in the life of at least one other person with whom I have had contact?
I think back on the people who have greatly influenced my life. When I was less than ten years old, a younger sibling of mine became gravely ill with leukemia and died in just a few months after her diagnosis. Person after person told me to be brave and strong and not to let my parents see me cry because it would upset them. I don’t remember those people by name. Conversely, a woman named Marge saw me trying to hold myself together, pulled me to herself and while I sobbed told me it was okay. That act of kindness, I will never forget! When my whole family lost its bearings in grief, a little old woman named Mercita took me under her wing. She thought up little jobs for me to do giving me focus and purpose. Like her name suggests, Mercita’s little acts of mercy changed me greatly. Though we moved away shortly after my sister’s death, over half a century later, I easily remember Mercita.
On the other hand, I can also easily call to mind names and faces of people who changed me greatly, but through negativity. A disparaging remark, a betrayal, even a failure to notice a person can have a huge impact on who they become. With both kindnesses and slights, we write on the slate of who a child will become, of how an adult sees the world.
Very few of us will achieve world renown by our own merits, but all of us will impact the lives of those around us. The question is, “How will those lives be impacted?” Eye contact and a smile to a stranger passed on the street, could brighten their day and then the day of their family and coworkers and the clerk from whom they purchase their gas or paper. It really can be that simple! Marge’s hug and reassurance cost her but a moment, but imprinted me for a lifetime. Mercita’s thoughtfulness and generosity of heart went unnoticed by the world at large, but changed the world none the less, because she changed me.
Marge and Mercita left the world a better place when they died than it was when they entered it. Their deeds were not those of a Mother Teresa or Abraham Lincoln or Albert Einstein. Their deeds were simple, ordinary acts of kindness. Their interaction with me was as much a part of their everyday life as was the negativity of those who impacted me in that way. I suspect neither group really understood the impact they had on me, but I want the balance of my own life to lie heavy on the side of kindness and love and generosity. To be sure it does, I take a personal inventory at the end of the day. Did I give attention or show kindness to more people than went by unnoticed? Were my words harsh or sweet or at least soft enough to eat when I hear them come back at me? Did I leave the world a better place today?
What will your legacy be? What impact will you have on the world? How will you know?
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