What if those people could stand on the shore watching their wake wash a bit of the shore away? And what if each of us could stay put long enough to see the rippling trail of everything we did rolling out behind us? What if we stopped long enough to see the long train of unintended consequence fan out from every innocently intended thing we did? A taste for the consequence, for what endures: Maybe then there’d be a chance for things to be different.
Jenkinson, Stephen (2015-03-17). Die Wise: A Manifesto for Sanity and Soul (p. 6). North Atlantic Books. Kindle Edition.
I am a creature of nostalgia, for me, the memories of those I love and have loved are never far away. As I watch my nieces grow into strong young women I dream of what they may be, all they can be. I wonder as to the marks, both good and bad, that we who love them so fiercely will leave upon them for the future. I trace my own marks and scars, the places where those loved and lost and those here still have left their imprints upon me, and I wonder.
I find myself often taking time to remember with my nieces, the people of their past. The grandparents that wished for them, but never were able to know them, the family they will never have the same privilege of knowing as myself and their father did, and yet they should know. I try frequently, to bring the memories of those amazing people, gone but not forgotten, and offer them in small bites to these little girls I love. These are the people who built them, that paved the way for them to be here, who shaped the ones who raise them now, who have made us all who we are in a beautiful variety of ways. I want them to know the sweet kindness of their great-grandfather and how he loves them. I show them the rocks of his collection and share with them the stories he and I once shared, because they should know, he loved them before they were ever here in our arms, I know he did. I share with them the memories of their great-grandmother, how strong and brilliant she was, how she was a woman so ahead of her time, how her example changed a world, how her choices and causes altered so many lives for the better, including theirs. I want them to know that they come from that strength and that example, that beauty and that power, that the women that have come before them have shown them by example that they can be whatever they desire, they can change the world. I share them, with tears in my eyes, the few memories I have of their other great-grandfather, the man who passed before I was old enough to remember. I think I share in part because I remember so strongly for so many years begging to know him in a way I couldn’t; longing to touch his face and know his soul and drink his memories, but for so long we never talked about him after he passed, it was too difficult.
They are children, with a child’s attention span and interest, so they often dismiss me, or give a tiny accepting nod and continue on missions of toys, cartwheels and imagination. That is fine, perhaps the sharing isn’t always as much for them as it is for myself. I need to remember too and remembering aloud is always wonderful.
I have to come to see that which endures, the tiny things that these wonderful people did in their lives which ripple through this world even now. Their lives were not filled of moments intended to create legacy, and yet how powerfully and profoundly they have. If you told them while they lived, the effects that they would leave upon the world, the imprints of their hearts and their love and their work upon others, they would have shrugged, perhaps told you “that’s nice”, and gone upon their way. The simple act of their extraordinarily ordinary living rippled into the world and reverberated in long-lasting ways they never could have imagined. I want my nieces to see and understand this, and I want them to know, that they will do the same.
Often we get so caught up in the grand gestures and actions of life that we forget, it remains quite likely that some of the most profound effects we will have on others are not in the big moments, they are in the tiny gestures, the smiles, the shared moments of life. Those pages are written and they do not burn and disappear when our bodies are gone, when we move on from this life to whatever is beyond. Those pages remain etched in time and our legacy lives on. No one has to write your biography, your story is inextricably etched in the world as it moves forward, and no matter how little you think you have imprinted, you have.
When I talk about legacy work with people, the telling of their stories or writing them on paper, creating videos or art or other more tangible glimpses of their footprints here on earth, I often hear people minimize themselves, deny any legacy. We all have a legacy though, and our families need us to share it, and those little bits of memory can be so powerful and meaningful in difficult days of grief and far beyond.
So remember the legacy of those that came before today, celebrate and call to mind the tiny ways they have changed you and your life. Share those memories with others you love. In this lies an opportunity to write more of your own legacy upon the pages of time, to perpetuate the legacy of those you love, and to help others believe in the magic of the legacy they too will leave to linger on this earth long after they are gone. And maybe, just maybe, when we learn to realize the impacts that we’ve had, the idea of moving on to a new chapter in the unknown will get just a little bit easier.