I’m writing this on 4 July, which I’ve realised marks a month since my grandmother died. I’ve been in a slightly strange state of mind – not sad, exactly, because my grandmother lived to a grand age and I feel more grateful for such an extended life than mourning her loss – but a little disoriented. Like something’s slightly missing. And I’ve realised it’s because she’s not around any more. And I’m noticing the absence. Her positive impact.
As my son said to me, ‘you’ve never had a time when Granny wasn’t there, have you?’ Not only is it true, but it’s also a reflection of how influential someone can be, even if, to be truthful, over the past year or so, my visits were becoming briefer and less frequent as my Granny became frailer and more tired.
This isn’t a post about Granny, specifically, though. I have written one of those already, and as she would say, that’s quite enough attention. Plus – I don’t have a monopoly on my feelings – all of our family feel a little similar, as do the staff at the aged care home where she lived, and the many other people who visited her. I’m not alone – my grandmother had an impact. And I guess that’s the point.
Often we hear about the need for people to leave a legacy behind. What they will create, or do, to make an impact in the world. Something that will remain far after they are no longer around. And that can be a good thing – many wonderful inventions, pieces of art, buildings, restorations, or whatever, can be traced to that sort of motivation – as can transformative policy changes, or business innovations, or the like. Many of us benefit, and yes, these can have really positive impacts.
But the big things aren’t always the most important, are they? Because the thing about things is – well, they are things. And things don’t always last. Not everyone sees the value that you see in striving towards creating a thing. It may not have the longevity that you aim for. It may, in reality, not actually be that beneficial, but merely an edifice to your own need for self validation (especially if, say, it’s a large tower and named after yourself, hypothetically).
Maybe this sounds a little negative? I don’t mean to it to be. Maybe I’m a little envious, because I’m not sure I can create something so significant – but some people can, and, as I’ve said, many of those things make our lives richer as a result. Not all of us have the talent, or the opportunities, to make significant, sizeable, noticeable creations, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing. And they don’t have to be big things anyway. So, go for it, if you think it’s worthwhile – we need creators and do-ers in the world – but don’t hang your hopes on your creations being your ticket to longevity.
No, I think there is something far more significant, but not always commented on. And (for those of us less grand in scale) it’s something we can all achieve to some degree. And that is the mark – the impact – you leave on those who you come in contact with. And, cumulatively, this impact can be, well, remarkable.
Because we all do make an impact, don’t we? Even the shyest, most reserved of us will interact with others to some level. Even the incidental comments to colleagues, the kindness shown to strangers, the way we notice other people’s actions and align that with a change in circumstances and show interest – all of these seemingly small gestures have impacts. And most of us have people in our lives with whom we hold closer than this. In those relationships, the way we are willing to share, to care, to be there (and to rhyme, if that’s applicable), over time – that leaves a mark. It has impact. And it continues to do so, long after we ourselves might forget any one incident.
As I mentioned when I wrote about her before, my grandmother wasn’t someone to intentionally put herself forward. She didn’t love being in front of a crowd, and after she was married, she worked in the home, behind the scenes. She would say, when asked, that she’d had a pretty simple, unremarkable life – yes, she was very blessed by wonderful family and friends, but she herself was unremarkable. I don’t think this was true. Her impact, while not flashy, was meaningful – the way she cared for others emotionally and practically, has a huge influence on many people. It was seen in the way she stepped up, years before any of us grandchildren were born, as the primary contact and carer over decades for the numerous elderly people that seemed to populate my family. It was seen in her volunteer work locally, as she continued to visit and help ‘the old people’ until well into her 90s. And it was seen in the love and interest she showed her family, those in her immediate circle of friends, and, actually, everyone she came across, Granny cared. She was interested, curious and always supportive. This love, mixed with a deep interest in wanting to know you, had a remarkable impact on all of us lucky to know her.
One aspect we all commented on, as Granny was getting closer to the end, was her love for her husband, our grandfather, Bob. None of us grandchildren ever met him, because he died before any of us was born. But, you know, despite this – we did know him.
Although we never met Bob directly – we saw his impact. It was apparent in his sons, in their mannerisms and appearance, more importantly, their characteristics of kindness, humour, diligence (Dad) and tidiness (my uncle). It flows through in different ways in us, his grandchildren, with particular talents and attributes being pointed out (and photos which, actually, when we look hard, we can see some aspects which can be attributed to him). And he’s remembered through the ongoing commitment and reference to him that my grandmother carried (not in a mournful, but in a joyful ‘I see so much of Bob in him, in the way he does (whatever it might be)’ way) right until her death at 104 years of age.
I am coming to realise that the way we treat others, from those we know deeply to those who we barely notice, is our greatest legacy. The way we treat others, and the love and respect we show them and us by being the most ‘us’ we can be with them, and allowing them to be the most ‘them’, will create our most significant influence. And whether it leads to our memory living on or not doesn’t really matter. Because, whether or not it is recognised and attributed to us, it will have a positive impact.
And that will be enough. More than enough. Really, it’s everything.