This will be a bit of a departure from my usual oeuvre. Today I attended a memorial service for the 19-year-old son of some friends of mine. That perpetual evil, cancer, took him in three short months, a devastating and incomprehensible outcome. The pain radiating from his family is palpable, as would be expected. You just want to hug them, and never let go.
The memorial was largely organized by a group of Justin’s friends. Their efforts were impressive, and their remembrances touching and heartfelt. But I found myself pondering the nature of legacy, and those things left behind when we pass on.
I wonder if we realize that the legacy we leave behind is really not one of our own making. Listening to his friends and family speak, I wondered if he ever knew that of the millions of interactions he had in his life with these people, that these vignettes would come to define that relationship, and by extension, him. The story about him reaching out to the new kid in sixth grade showed his kindness. The kid who’d known him since preschool showed his loyalty. The aunt who remembered the rubber snake he’d tossed on her in the pool showed his humor.
But I wondered, did he know what his kindness meant to that boy, or his loyalty to another? Did he know that his aunt’s remembered laughter would some day be a bright beacon through her grief?
One can only assume he wouldn’t have known, any more than any of us can knowingly define the important moments of our lives. But what a grand reminder for those of us still here, that each and every day, in ways small and large, we create impacts that will ripple out from us, and alter the lives and experiences of every one they touch.
Ultimately, our legacy is woven in to the memories and experiences of others. It is focused through their lenses, and honed by their blades. However, this doesn’t make us powerless. Rather, it makes clear the incredible power inherent in our every deed an action. If any one moment may be everything to one person, then we’d best take care with each and every moment.
It’s clear this young man had given only the best of himself to his loved ones, a final gift for them now in their grief. May we all remember to leave these moments behind for those who will be left behind when we pass.