What Are You Leaving Behind?

What Are You Leaving Behind?

“I would like my life to say, to all who paid attention, that this was a man who had the great benefit of knowing what struggle was and how necessary struggle is to the formation of character. I’ve tried my best always to give it all I had.”
–Ossie Davis

There I was, strapped into my window seat, having finally jammed my bulging knapsack underneath the seat in front of me. I was starting to relax when a horrible thought shot through my mind: I’d left something behind. But what?

In a panic, I yanked my bag out from under the seat and started rummaging. Cell phone? Check. Wallet? Check. Book? Check. Did I forget to grab my son’s stuffed animal—the one he can’t sleep without—from off the bed? No, got it. Then it hit me: my daughter’s Game Boy—I’d left it on the table!

I turned toward her with dread and, as if reading my mind, Veronica calmly pulled it from her own carry-on and started to play. OK, I thought, as I sighed heavily and started to breathe again. My daughter shook her head and chuckled.

“What’s so funny?” I asked.

“You,” she said, with all the wisdom of a 9-year-old. “You’re always going to leave something behind, but you never know what it’s going to be. Don’t worry about it, Mom. We have everything we need.”

Little know-it-all that she is, she had no idea that she’d tapped into one of my deepest fears and motivators: What am I leaving behind?

It’s something we all think about on occasion and it’s always slightly distressing, not only because it means considering our own mortality but also because, no matter how strong and sincere our intentions are, we simply cannot control everything.

One thing is certain: It’s not what we buy or earn or save or mean to do that we’ll be remembered for, but what we actually do. As my Sunday school teacher, Mrs. Campbell, used to say, “You will be judged by your deeds.” It’s a useful measuring tool for your life—to hold your real actions up against the image of yourself that you hope will linger when you’re gone.

If you do, and you’re honest with yourself, you’ll quickly realize how right Mrs. Campbell was. Your children will not remember you as the best parent if you are always off working, even if you see yourself as doing it all “for them.” Your friends will not reminisce about your joyful, forgiving nature if you lose too many of them to grudges long held.

Even if you try to sculpt a definitive legacy, when you’re gone it will be left open to interpretation—someone else’s. Which brings us back to my daughter’s wise words: “You’re always going to leave something behind, but you never know what it’s going to be. Don’t worry.” If you take enough care with your days, with your words, and with your deeds, when the time comes, you can be sure that whatever it is you’ve left, it will be good enough.