Photo by Annie Spratt
This month I turned 40-years-old. Despite the occasional jokes at my own expense, I love my age. I cannot remember any of the reasons I thought turning 21 would make me sophisticated or why, from teenager’s eyes, 30 seemed so old. I’m grateful for every moment of every decade because each moment led me to a place of discoveries about myself and the world around me. I’m not afraid of aging, but I am afraid of complacency and developing a lack of appreciation for the privileges I have enjoyed all my life. I worry about becoming so busy with adulthood that I forget to enjoy the moments I cannot get back.
Underneath all those thoughts and hopes that are mine alone exists this strange new world of pandemics, unending brutality, soundbites over facts, and ongoing isolation. The year 2020 bellows with hard lessons usually reserved for fables and educational programming. Whatever I thought the world would look like by the time I turned 40, I was not prepared to live this year under a cloud of isolation and ineptitudes.
This new reality has recently had me thinking a lot about legacy. All over the country, monuments are being removed, schools and sports teams are being rebranded, and event venues are being reevaluated. This reckoning is long overdue. Over the last 50, 100, 200 years, the atrocities that have happened cannot be ignored and should not be venerated. The legacy those individuals left behind should sicken us, not inspire us. While it would be wrong to sanitize the events and people that shaped the nastier aspects of nation-building, it is its own type of savagery to believe that idols of stone and marble are the only ways to remember what came before us—which brings me to my own legacy. While I know, I will never be someone whose name is echoed throughout history. I’m still concerned about the type of reputation I’m building for myself.
Someone once asked me in an interview: “If the world only remembered one thing about you, what would you want it to be?” At the time, I said that I wanted to be remembered for being kind, but more accurately, I want to be remembered as someone whose deep sense of compassion for others led me to act on their behalf—because sentiment without action is powerless.
When we feel compassion for another person, we are unable to vilify them based on the color of their skin. Compassion makes us incapable of raging against a stranger for choosing to wear PPE during a health crisis. Through compassion, we are compelled to seek ways, great and small, to relieve others’ suffering.
In this respect and many others, I’m proud of the example set for me by my mom. She took the time to talk to me about the stars and the ocean. She exposed me to the larger world through books and documentaries from a very young age. She never wanted me to stop dreaming about the future or fall into the misconception that my worldview was the only scope worth exploring. I am thankful for her every day of my now 40-years.
I have worked hard not to squander those moments of insight and training. However, sometimes I think the broad strokes of compassion—charities, petitions, protests—are easier to manage than the singular exchanges that drip with emotions and familiarity.
Sometimes, I think it is easier to save the world than it is your household.
With that in mind, I want to use my next 40 years to give more than I take, actively listening more than I do now, and leave a situation better than I found it. I don’t want to waste a moment, not for myself, but for those around me who deserve to be supported, celebrated, and championed. I want to ensure that my concerns and fears do not override my ability to make room for someone else’s differences, needs, or options.
Every day we make decisions that impact the legacy we will leave behind. The months ahead will continue to reflect our collective character and shape how the world sees us. Even if we never have monuments built to us or songs written about us—we can establish a legacy built on compassion and a sense of community. We can build a lasting reputation through our words and actions that sing out through the ages—this is the legacy I want for myself.
What legacy do you hope to leave behind?