Odd way to spend a Saturday, going to a funeral of someone I didn’t really know. And I won’t bore you with the details of why I was there. The deceased was a world renown doctor, who changed, for the better, the lives of every woman affected by breast cancer. Understandably, the crowd in attendance was large and varied – and the eulogies kept coming: the sweet and touching ones from his family; the eloquent and slightly academic from his colleagues; the funny one, from a nun of all people, but all along the lines we have come to expect on such occasions, a life is remembered and celebrated. Then food is served and the full stop placed after the word “end”.
If not for a doctor who stood up and delivered one of the most “out of the box” eulogies I have ever heard, this funeral would have followed in the footsteps of many others, and promptly relegated to the “he was such a lovely man and led a good life” drawer. This speaker, though, touched on something that stuck with me through the lavish lunch, more pouring of words and the ride home. For how long is a life remembered?
The general assumption is that, unless we have done something for the history books or contributed to the arts and sciences, we will be forgotten in the space of three or four generations. Our names no longer uttered. Our graves flowerless, our possessions scattered – maybe some photos left in a cloud and a useless digital trail. In a hundred year or so, not a single soul will know who I was, or who you were. Vanished without a trace after decades of wheels spinning, running and toiling.
This doctor whose life was being eulogized undoubtedly changed the lives of millions and his colleague thought that the least each and one of us, assembled under the wood and glass ceiling of the Episcopalian church, could do to honor his memory was to pay his contribution forward, by affecting change to the degree that was within our capability.
And it rang true. Most of us give our all already to our immediate family and friends but how much of the world at large do we let in the inner circle of our good deeds? In the form of a smile to strangers, maybe; a kind word or a compliment instead of silence; a little bit more patience? It can be small, it needn’t be taxing. Every little action that can improve, even for a second, someone else’s life maybe will snowball into a larger change at the end of the chain. It’s not a new concept – just one we don’t incorporate in our routines too often.
Usually it’s individuals with vast amounts of money at their disposal who think in terms of legacy. But if we can’t have a foundation or a hospital wing named after us, it doesn’t mean we should not be thinking about our legacy, which will end up being less tangible than brass letters forever welded to an auditorium hall, but no less important. Thinking about our legacy, I believe drives us to be better human beings now.
If ashes can be scattered, so can good deeds, for no other reason that we are lucky enough to be able to drop a dollar in a beggar’s cup, or cook a meal for a stranger in need, or return a wallet someone dropped at the coffee shop. It doesn’t take money – it takes the commitment to love our fellow humans a little bit more. And one hundred years from now, when no one will remember my name, I will have changed the world for the better, I will still be part of that chain that keeps on paying it forward.