Monday, December 12, 2016

What Will You Leave?

I love my birthday. I love celebrating my birthday. Sometimes I do so with friends; sometimes I prefer it be a simple and quiet affair. (There must, however, always be cake!) The joke in my household is that once the December holiday season ends, I begin the countdown to my birthday which, by the way, falls on the 110th day of the calendar year. (111 day if it is a leap year.)

Let me state clearly, I do not mind getting older. I embrace it, truly. And truth be told, there was only one birthday that caused me pause . . . the year I turned 48. And I know why, too. Up until that age, I always felt I could double my age and see myself as still living. 40 = 80; 42 = 84; 45 = 90; 47 = 94. But when I doubled 48 . . .96 years old . . . suddenly that seemed to me to be much less probable. For reasons unbeknownst to me, 95 years old was my cut-off point.

In 2017, I will be 62 years old. In thinking about this age, I am once again feeling unsettled. Certainly, 62 is way past my doubling formula, so that doesn't come into play. Something else, something larger seems to be nagging me. At first I thought it was because my mom was 62 when she passed on. But that wasn't it. Then I thought about the friends who have passed this year. Young, vibrant, with so many years ahead of them. I zeroed in on my friend Dorsie Kovacs who died in October. She was 64. Yes. This had something to do with Dorsie. But it wasn't about her young age, 64 years; it was what she had done with those years, with her life.

Dorsie was a veterinarian and owned the Monson Small Animal Clinic. There is so much I could tell you about her, but I'll let these words from her obituary suffice. "She was a special soul whose spirit inspired everyone she met. Possibly the most positive person ever, she always saw the silver lining in every storm cloud that passed her way. Her employees often referred to her as 'Pollyanna,' to me she was 'Perpetually, Pathologically (in a good way), Perky.' Passionate about her life's work as the local veterinarian, she provided care and comfort to pets and their people alike."

My nagging thoughts were not specifically about Dorsie; it was about what Dorie left behind, her legacy.

Legacy is what you create during your life, what you leave behind when you are gone. "The legacy we leave is part of the ongoing foundations of life," wrote Jim Rohn. "Those who came before leave us the world we live in. Those who will come after will have only what we leave them. We are stewards of this world, and we have a calling in our lives to leave it better than how we found it, even if it seems like such a small part."

Looking back on my own life, I could clearly recognize the legacy-leavers who guided me my way. Most notably were my mom and maternal grandmother who instilled in me a passion for learning, for language, for living a compassionate life. I thought, too, of a few former teachers who challenged me to question, to not simply be satisfied with seemingly easy answers to life's perplexities.

I will be 62 in 129 days from my writing of this article. And so I must ask myself: what kind of legacy will I leave? What will be my contribution, my imprint on the future? In my work I touch a lot of lives -- from students to business people. What message am I leaving? What am I demonstrating by my actions? These are the questions I intend to keep in the forefront of my mind for all the remaining days (of which I hope are many) of my life.

"Carve your name on hearts, not tombstones. A legacy is etched into the minds of others and the stories they share about you," wrote Shannon Alder. What will be your legacy?