Famously, after setting up a school for girls in South Africa and brimming with pride about the legacy she would leave because of it, the very Oprah Winfrey was challenged by Maya Angelou:
You have no idea what your legacy will be.
Your legacy is what you do every day.
Your legacy is every life you’ve touched,
Every person whose life was either moved or not.
It’s every person you’ve harmed or helped.
That’s your legacy.
We all stand on the shoulders of giants, the ordinary people with no name to speak of, who built our homes, made our cars and designed the funky fridge that cools the milk and keeps strawberries fresh. Others educated our kids, helped us with the taxes, buried our dead and wrote the poems we read at night. They all hoped to help with something, just as we try our hand at elevating or improving the work that comes our way. It is not so much the quest for perfection I am talking about here, but the desire to make things better so that they are better, for us, for the people we care about and the society and culture at large.
Our world faces problems that require the effort and attention of many lives, many hearts and many hands on deck. It hurts to care and so we hold back investing our time and attention without a clear end, guarantee or impact in sight. It is understandable that we want to see the outcomes of our actions but there are projects worth starting even though we won’t be able to see them through till the end. Most of us will participate in a relay race without clear start and finish lines. Few of us will live to tell the tale of the impact we have created. We will plant the acorns for the oaks whose shade the grandkids of our kids will enjoy. Our legacy is the ripples that will be felt without us knowing that we were the pebble that created them.
For Susan, whose mission is to make school funding fairer.
Photo by Linus Nylund, Upsplash