Thoughts after an Autumn Ramble in a Graveyard: Paying Life Forward
This is is a wild departure from my normal Monday Column, but I generally write about topics foremost in my head at the time and this is one hanging around the front burner. It was there even before I visited the graveyard where Daniel Boone's parents are buried.
Because, I crave a legacy. Do you?
BUILDING A LEGACY
Tonight as we walked betwixt gravestones, wonderfully alive to the keen air and autumn color, the sense of their lives was strong on me. They lived, as someone said "complex lives that could have books written about them."
They were born. They took their first steps. Lived childhood. The world was at their fingertips. Then, as happens for most adults the vortex of living and making a living swept them up. For a little while questions about bread and butter took the upper hand, and kids crying at night took a stand between them and the next work day. Inexorable time. Before they knew it, their time became... their time.
They also lived and died. Now, I walk this yard of indescribable peace and neglected stones and wonder, who will remember me? And it occurs to me, one of the greatest fears humans face is being forgotten. Having our lives count for nothing. It's why names are so important in graveyards - to remind the world of a vital, human life that contributed to the life we know today.
WILL MY LIFE COUNT FOR ANYTHING WHEN I'M GONE?
It's a troubling question. To feel satisfied a human being must feel purposeful, to feel as if there is a reason for one's existence.
One of the most effective things I've done recently to deal with this question is pretend I'm at the end of my life, asking: what will be important to me in the sum total? Will I regret not going for this someday? Should I say no or yes? What should I pursue? I tend to see the bigger picture more clearly this way because hindsight is clearer than foresight. It brings things into sharper focus. Over and over, one thing comes to mind as an answer from which to build the other decisions.
Establishing a legacy that future generations can take a stand upon requires heaps of character. It's a way of paying it forward, to put it in the buzz terminology of the day. It means realizing that lives, however quietly lived, cause ripple effects that spread out for generations and we'd better make sure it's a good ripple.
What does this look like in real life?
The simple version of building character is being willing to face up to hard things and stick things out. It always takes a resolve to walk through uncomfortable or stretching experiences, because it is less than fun.. Of course, seeing yourself through pain isn't referring to staying in situations destroying you, but in places that will do you good in the long run. It's the process in these experiences that will shape you more than anything.
Sticking through it.
Learning from it.
Responding to it in healthy ways.
It's like that exercise regimen you know you need to see through. It hurts and you want to hurt the trainer, but when you remain consistent and keep at it - the results will surprise you. Exercise often temporarily damages muscle, but the end result is a stronger, healthier person for it.
Exercise and character works best with consistency. You know how people always say to give something 100%? In my opinion it's an unwise way to look at things, especially at first, because people often overexert themselves and never go back to what they should be doing. By all means work toward excellence, but never forget that the biggest hurdle is to show up.
Show up in the lessons of your life. Show up for discipline and education. Stand there and take the criticism, however unjust. Work through the tension. Keep your head when everyone else loses theirs. It's not our natural response, but it will start to build a strong character that can stand firm against wind and storms.
Walk in a graveyard every now and then and think about these things. It's not morbid, it's just taking the time to think backwards, and think about how to pay your life forward.