When I am in a somewhat contemplative mood, which is all the time lately, I may find myself thinking about what will happen tomorrow or next week, or daydreaming about what my life will be like in a year.
When I’m in a very contemplative mood, I might ponder what will happen when I’m dead and gone from this world. What will I leave behind for my children? What lessons from their mother will they look to for wisdom and strength? What long-lasting gifts will I leave, material and otherwise? Will my writing live on as an inspiration to others? Or will it simply fade away?
Too deep for a late-summer blog post? Maybe. I have been told on several occasions that I think too much. But since August is National What Will Be Your Legacy Month (yes, it’s an actual month-long holiday, people) it’s a fitting time to contemplate these things.
Now, I’m the first to admit that national holidays can be silly. Because when is the last time any of us commemorated National Honey Month or Collect Rocks Day? (Both are in September in case you’re wondering…and I seriously hope you’re not.) But the whole idea of nurturing one’s legacy by reflecting on actions and making positive changes for the benefit of future generations seems worthwhile.
If anyone were to ask me five years ago what I thought my legacy would be, I would have said, without hesitation, to leave behind powerful, timeless writing that inspires young women to open their minds, expand their horizons and explore what’s inside. That was my passion. I lived and breathed girl empowerment…and all was well with the world.
Then life slithered out of a dark alley, pimp slapped me around, got a few hits below the belt and kicked me hard in the shins when I least expected it. Losing a job, an unborn child and an only living parent in the span of a few years can send things a bit off course.
Realizing, after 20 years with the same man, that my love for women was too powerful to continue living a lie was another blow to who I thought I was and what I would accomplish in this life. So the question arises: as our lives change, do our legacies change as well?
Moving through this transition — or whatever you want to call this process of me embracing the fact that I prefer woman — has been like looking into a funhouse mirror and not recognizing who’s looking back. As hard as that is for me, I know it’s been ten times that for my husband. During one of our more heated arguments, he asked me something that still makes my stomach drop when I think about it, “Are you proud of who you are right now? Do you want your children to be like you?”
Decisions made in the dark have a way of coming to light when you least expect it. I won’t lie; I’ve done things I’m not proud of. But despite my humanity — because we all make mistakes — I believe that one day my children will understand the decision I’ve made to live my life authentically. Perhaps they’ll even appreciate the courage that it took to make that change.
Underneath the chaos that is my life at the moment, I’m still the woman who wants to inspire with her writing and strives to teach her children to be honest, self-sufficient adults. That continues to be the core of my life plan, despite occasionally feeling like it would be easier to crawl under the covers of my bed and shut out the world for a few years.
I can use what my mother left behind as a template. Material assets like the beautiful home that her children and grandchildren cherish and the land she carefully maintained, along with intangible lessons like perseverance, standing by one’s principles and always doing one’s best are at the heart of her legacy. Never a word was spoken on these things; I know them because of who she was and the example that she set with her actions. THAT is a legacy to be proud of. So that is the example I will follow.
I’m sure I’ll stumble many more times before I leave this world, but a yoga teacher once said something that still resonates with me. While I was struggling with tree pose (where you stand on one leg, arms raised, the other leg bent and propped against the standing leg) she emphasized that we shouldn’t get discouraged because our balance is off. “The strength comes from the wobble,” she said. Struggle makes us who we are and inspires us to make change or take action. It all contributes to our story in the end.
So as I’m wobbling and aging and changing right along with the rest of the world, I will be sure to consider:
• How will my actions impact others?
• How will my decisions affect what I leave behind?
• What kind of example am I setting?
And maybe when I’m done and have moved on to whatever comes after this life, I’ll have accomplished just a little something to benefit those left behind. Not perfect by any means, but long-standing and inspiring and resonant, just like my mother.
Is it worthwhile to live our lives with a legacy in mind? Do you have an idea of what your legacy will be?
- Felix Jay
Felix Jay is a professional writer and author who resides in Long Island, NY.