Make Kindness your Legacy

Ever since I turned fifty a few years back, I’ve noticed a deeper interest in and focus on what my legacy will be. I suspect this is fairly common as folks hit middle age. We start to weigh and consider the elements of our lives – what has had the greatest meaning?

What would we want to pass down to the next generations? How do I want to spend my remaining years in order to have the biggest impact in areas that mean the most to me?

I’m grateful to be living my life now with that perspective. It helps me choose goals and determine how I want to live each day. This is a conversation I wish I’d had with myself more often in my younger years.

Stephen Covey is known for the expression, “Begin with the end in mind.” When we know where we’re headed, where we want to land, we’re likely to give ourselves a map to get there. I think Covey’s statement is a good one to recall when we’re considering our legacy and how we want to be remembered. When we know what we want to leave behind, we have a clue as to where to begin – right here and now.

Have you thought about your own legacy? Even if you’re still far from middle or old age, maybe reading this will inspire you to think about who you want to be in this lifetime and what you want to give.

I want to tell you a story about someone I don’t know but who has helped shape my idea of legacy. Her name is Fabienne and I never met her. She isn’t a colleague, personal friend or family member. I didn’t go to school with her, chat with her at a party or ever meet her in person.

Fabienne was a woman who participated in my 53-53-53 Birthday Kindness Project last year. Every year for my birthday, I write love letters to strangers – whatever age I will be is how many letters I send. Fabienne responded to the request that I put out to my Simply Celebrate community. She asked me to write a letter to her aunt who was going through a very difficult time.

We wrote back and forth several times during that period. Fabienne’s loving heart and generous spirit were obvious in her correspondence with me. She was effusive in her love for her aunt and also sweetly appreciative of the work I do. Her positive energy jumped off the page.

Several months after my Birthday Project ended, I received an email from Fabienne’s daughter, Chiara, letting me know that Fabienne had died unexpectedly. (Chiara must have gone through her mum’s email address book and sent a note to everyone in it. It was a very thoughtful gesture.)

I remember sitting with that news and feeling profoundly moved. Even though I only “met” Fabienne through those few email exchanges we had, she had left a big impression on me.

I have no idea what Fabienne did for work, what she accomplished in her life, how much money she made, what religion she practiced or how successful she was. It doesn’t matter. None of that matters. What matters is that she left a positive feeling. She was kind. She was good hearted.

Her legacy is kindness, enthusiasm, gratitude and love.

So many people are focused on accomplishing great things. People want awards and accolades. People want to leave big important legacies and there’s nothing wrong with that. But Fabienne taught me what really matters: the legacy we are creating in every moment – the legacy of love and kindness.

Think about it. Have you had an experience of feeling upset or sad and someone has gone out of their way to offer you a kind word? Doesn’t it change everything? Maybe you’ve been on the other side of the equation and you’ve been the one to offer compassion to someone who was having a hard time. It feels so good, so right.

To me, these moments of connection feel like the reason why we’re all on this planet together. One of my favorite quotes is by Ram Dass: “We’re all just walking each other home.”

What if we dedicate our lives to those moments of supporting one another along this wonderful and rocky journey on earth? What if we didn’t have to accomplish tremendous things, but rather we offered small acts of kindness with big impact?

When I asked Chiara if I could use her mother’s name and story in a public way, she said, “Yes. I know my mother would want me to give you permission because this is a message which brings light, peace and love into the world.”

Thank you, sweet stranger Fabienne, for reminding us that kindness and joy are wonderful ways to be remembered when we are gone.

As you go about your day today, I hope you’ll think about the legacy you leave with every step. I know I will.

Sherry’s mission is helping people find creative, intentional and impactful ways to celebrate life and to express love for family and friends. Visit her website or email her to say hello at Sherry’s book, “Say it Now; 33 Creative Ways to Say I Love You to the Most Important People in Your Life,” is now available on Amazon. Join Sherry’s free 5-day challenge, "Olly Olly Oxen Free: Permission and Belonging," here.

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