A legacy is something passed on to future generations, it’s also what you will be remembered for and what you have left behind after you are dead and buried or cremated.
Your legacy can be as simple as a smile or as ambitious as major legislation. It may be music, a book or volunteer work. “Teddy” Kennedy by his example was a teacher for all of us. He suffered many set backs during his 77 years including the deaths of his parents and seven of his siblings. We all mourned for the tragic deaths of his brothers John F and Robert F Kennedy. He endured the worst nightmare of public exposure and humiliation for the Harvard incident and for the death of Mary Jo Kopechne at Chappaquiddick in 1969.
He owned up to his flaws and accepted responsibility for his actions in front of the entire world. It cost him the presidency of the United States but another door opened and he left us a legacy of over 300 pieces of legislation for human rights, workers rights, civil rights, health care for children and so much more.
Many people would become bitter with such grief, but not Ted Kennedy. His suffering made him more compassionate, thoughtful and kind even to those who opposed him the US Senate. He know what they were going through. He transformed his painful experiences into compassion.
There is a story that I love and it helps me to remember to be compassionate. It’s in my book, Letting Go With Love: The Grieving Process.
A woman in India lost a child and she was so steeped in her grief that she couldn’t function. She went to see a Holy man and told him her story. He said to her,” Daughter do you want to be an egg or a potato? ” She was surprised by his question and asked, “What do you mean?” He said, ” when you put an egg into boiling water it becomes hard and when you put a potato into boiling water it becomes soft and pliable. Which do you want to be?”
I want to be a potato. Teddy Kennedy was a potato.
Here are some tips to guide you in leaving a legacy that will live in the hearts of those you touch long after you are gone.
CONNECT: Reach out to others and let them know how you feel. It is rare to get positive feedback for anything we do or say. People are quick to criticize and slow to compliment. A few years ago I wanted to acknowledge the love and support I got from three women all were my mothers age and they gave me encouragement and unconditional love and support. I wrote each one a letter and told them how much their love and friendship meant to me. I’m so glad I did this they are all dead now.
BE GENEROUS: You probably have a lot more to offer than you realize. All your life experiences have taught you something. As human beings we share many similar experiences. Share you time, knowledge, and person with others. Generosity means giving freely with no strings attached. If you look for opportunities your will find so many ways to be generous. Ted Kennedy called and visited people in the hospital, went to funerals, telephoned good wishes for happy occasions. He knew intuitively when someone was vulnerable, happy or sad and he followed through with sensitivity.
DON’T GIVE UP: There are times in everyone’s life that we are discouraged, hurt, grieving a loss, losing a job, suffering a physical illness and feel that we have no reason to go on. Instead of giving up use this as an opportunity, a time to rest and recuperate, to reevaluate and heal. This is a time to reset your values, rethink your goals, and appreciate who you are and what you have accomplished so far in your life. Don’t be a fatalist. Learn patience. When one door closes another opens. Be positive and be ready!
LEARN FROM YOUR MISTAKES: Life is a school, a learning laboratory. When we learned to walk we fell down a lot before we mastered the skill. So it is with life. Every day we are confronted with new opportunities to learn. Some of life’s lessons are hard, painful and we stumble several times before we “get it.” Don’t give up! Concentrate on what you have learned, and honor the victory. What you’ve learned you can share with others. Become a teacher and teach through your example, your caring and sharing.
BURY THE PAST: Holding on to old affronts, insults, criticism and even abuse only hurts you, not the perpetrator. You may not forget but if you can find it in your heart forgive. Forgive and learn from the experience. Turn your pain into helping others. Remember the story of being given a lemon and one person turns sour and the other makes lemonade. People who suffered a terrible loss started many organizations. MADD was started by a woman whose daughter was killed by a drunk driver. AMBER ALERT was started in 1996 by Donna and Richard Hagerman to find abducted children after their daughter Amber was abducted by a sexual predator. These are just a few examples of movements that share a common bond, educate the public and help so many others. If you are in pain find a group with similar circumstances, if you can’t find one– start one.
GIVE BACK: We are so fortunate to live in a wealthy developed country with so many riches, so much abundance and so many opportunities. The notion and belief that we can and will give back to others less fortunate, in pain, sick or grieving is part of a value system that needs to be put into action. Find a way to let your presence be known. We all have different talents and skills. What is yours? Music, art, taking care of someone, reading to nursery school children, or a blind person, helping teach English as a second language, visiting a sick friend, working in a food line to feed the homeless? Find your notch and fill it. Giving-feels good it nurtures your heart and soul.
ACCEPT LOVE GRACIOUSLY: This is a tough one. It is so much easier to give than to receive. But when you receive you give the other person the gift of giving—giving to you. This is another lesson from Teddy Kennedy. He gave and gave but he also received and this was demonstrated by the celebrations of his life and the tender stories told by his family, friends, and colleagues. What you sow also shall you reap.
Think about the legacy you will leave. Someone will appreciate even a smile. Me for example!