Two thoughts have made their way into my head lately, and they are having a kind of profound effect on me. I don’t even remember where they came from, whether I read them somewhere or they just occurred to me on their own, but I can’t seem to shake them. The first one, I’m pretty sure I read it in a blog somewhere, and essentially it is “How will people feel about you long after you are gone?” Like, what is your emotional legacy, the emotional “fingerprint” you leave on the people you love and care for? The second one, which goes hand in hand with that is really random, but…it popped into my head yesterday, and I keep going back to it, and here it is- no one really knows whether they have more of their life ahead of them than behind. Well, I guess some people do- for instance, if you are 93, you can can be pretty sure you have more of your life behind you than ahead. But for average, healthy people, the point is, you don’t really ever truly know when it’s your time, or how much more time you have.
I am not particularly afraid of dying, and that’s not really what this is about, but for me, dying is not something I get too worked up about. I am not religious, but I have a lot of faith, and some pretty comforting beliefs. What I do worry about is dying before I am ready, before my children are grown enough, and before I’ve had time to become the person I want to be remembered as. And that’s where things get troubling for me, that last part- being the person I want to be remembered as- because…well, what in the world is stopping me from being that right now? If I really don’t know (and hardly anybody does) when this whole life of mine is going to end, then why am I not just being the person I want to be right now? Because it doesn’t cost money, and there doesn’t need to be a different set of circumstances for that to happen. It’s not about any of that at all.
What it is about, and what I’m learning that everything is really about, is my own behavior, my own attitude, and my own willingness to engage in my own life and the life of the people I care about, on a deeper level. How hard is it, really, to respond more lovingly? To have a bit more patience, to answer with a nicer tone, to treat someone a little more kindly? Well, when your deeply ingrained habit is to be terse, irritated, impatient and sarcastic, it can be pretty challenging, I can vouch for that. But challenging is not the same as impossible. Do I want my children, friends, and family to look back on all their memories of me and laugh about how difficult I was? Well, I mean, that ship has kind of sailed if I die tomorrow, but…it’s not too late to temper that with better things. It’s never too late to get better. I should know! I’ve been slowly improving all the time in these past few years.
But there is always more that you can do. If you are lucky enough to live to be 100, there will always be another thing to work on, another thing you can improve. It never ends. I have been actively trying to spend more time with the people who matter to me, in ways that THEY enjoy, and as a bonus, I try not to whine about it the entire time. What I am finding out is that I can enjoy myself quite a bit when I stop listing all the reasons why everything is stupid and sucks, even if I’m only doing it internally- so if you do that, just stop it. Just relax, just go with the flow, just see what happens. Because guess what? No one ever died from doing something they find mildly unpleasant, and when you keep an open mind, you might even (gasp!) start enjoying yourself.
Recently, I cleaned off the catch-all surface of my kitchen table, and started insisting that Cam and I sit down at it at least a few nights a week to eat a meal together. At first, she was confused and upset by this-“But WHY?! And why does the TV have to be off, I’ll be BORED!”- but now that we have done it a few times, I think she kind of likes it. It’s just the two of us, sitting face to face, eating dinner and having no choice but to talk to each other about…whatever. Sadly, at first, it was a little awkward- I mean, the first five minutes, but still, it seemed longer to me. All I could think to ask was “So, how was school today?” A question that all kids in every part of the world just relish being asked, you know. But really quickly, we forgot that this was different for us, and we just started being our normal selves, and now we both really enjoy it. It was important to me to do this thing with her, this normal, family thing, and now we are doing it, and it is nice. Little changes, big rewards. This is something that she will remember.
Every morning, before she wakes up, and every day before I pick her up from school, I have a little talk with myself. I remind myself to be patient, kind, and loving, and to treat her in a way that will make her feel happy and loved. I know this sounds like a no-brainer, but for me, someone who’s natural state is a little more snappy and self-absorbed, this is important, and it helps. Last night, I was craving a dark chocolate pecan turtle, and I asked her if she wanted to go down to Fisherman’s Wharf and visit the candy store and maybe take a walk around after dinner. Of course, she was into it, so after we sat together and had dinner, we did just that. It was a chilly, overcast day, but we got our candy, and we wandered around in the shops, and then we took a little walk down the bike path and watched the otters play and the seals zip around in the harbor. We took lots of rests, because she is not much of a walker, but it was okay, we didn’t have anywhere we needed to be. And on the long walk back to the car, she held my hand and gave me a million hugs, and told me what a fun time she was having. It wasn’t a big night I had planned- it was just a dumb thing I thought of last minute, a tiny outing. But it was a happy moment, and we were happy in it together. These are the things I want more of in my life. This is the way I want to be remembered.