To laugh often and much; to win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children; to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends; to appreciate beauty, to find the best in others; to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition; to know even one life has breathed easier because you lived. This is to have succeeded. Ralph Waldo Emerson
This morning I tuned into the coverage of the President George W. Bush dedication to his library. Southern Methodist University, the location of this library, carries a part of my own history. Sixteen years ago, I stepped on the same campus. My first day did not start well. Running late to my first class as law student, I remember sliding into my seat, just as the Professor introduced the class and his requirements. The next 3 years, I teetered on all states of anxiety trying to balance a part-time job as a bank teller and a full-time legal student. On a sunny day in May, I graduated with my legal degree and practiced law for the next 6 years.
In my twenties, I believed my legal roots and what I did for a living carved out a portion of my legacy. Prior to my twentieth high school reunion, I flipped back to the pages of my memory book and in my curly cue writing, I wrote that becoming a lawyer was my career of choice. Looking back, I tied my self-worth in what I did, with less emphasis on what my core values, thoughts and behavior revealed. Caring more about status and the automatic credibility that the title offered, I spent many days, restless, frantic, and committed to a “legacy” I convinced myself to follow.
With the passing of my father, birth of my daughter, and struggling as a wife and mother, my original “legacy” plan required a vast overhaul. I quit my identity as a lawyer almost 6 years ago. Giving up what I wanted for so long proved humbling. But enduring crisis, watching one life pass as another takes birth, offers a perspective that really distills the meaning of the word legacy. Letting go of the only identity I really worked toward stirs a long sigh sometimes. What if’s creep up from time to time and I question choices I made and my misplaced drive.
On the question of legacy, I think we all alter and define and shift our plans to accommodate the present moment. I am stumbling to figure out that definition for me, but I do know this: Living in the present moment makes the legacy question irrelevant. We can work toward what is right in front of us. What we leave behind will differ depending on who you ask. Legacy is transient, the present moment is not. On the question of legacy, as I write this, it occurs to me that it may not be that important at all.