The average life expectancy in the United States is 78.69 years according to the World Bank. Depending on where you’re at on your life’s journey that may seem a long way off or unnervingly close. We humans tend to think in the short term most often and the concept of years is distant.
A friend suggested I try an experiment a few years ago and I was astonished. Take the average life expectancy number, subtract your current age to get an idea of how much longer you might have on this planet. Then multiply that number of years by 365 to get a range of days you might expect to live. In my case that’s approximately 6,570 days of life to experience the joys and sorrows that most certainly will come my way. Put in this context it doesn’t seem like much time.
It may sound cliché, yet I dare you to ask yourself this question — what is the meaning of life? One of my mentors years ago asked me what will my “dash” say about you? Confused, I asked him what he meant? You know, you have a date you were born, there is a dash and then the day you die carved in your gravestone. Your “dash” symbolizes what your time on earth might mean in the greater scheme of things. I’ll never forget how that made me feel at the time and what if any meaning my life might have.
This brings me back to legacy and what we might reasonably expect given that we are even interested in such concepts. Legacy defined is “An amount of money or property left to someone in a will” or “A thing handed down by a predecessor.”
Given my suggested 6,570 days of average life expectancy (or if you factor in that my father passed away at two months shy of his 91st birthday and my mother is currently 87 years old) genetically speaking I might be fortunate enough to add another 3,285 days to 4,745 days to my “dash.” I’m inclined to be optimistic and given medical advances here’s to 11,315 potential days. Now doesn’t that sound much better? Ok, enough of the math. The point is that there is a finite number of days for me to leave my legacy and likewise for those of you reading these words.
“May you live in interesting times” is a saying often attributed to the Chinese yet ultimately there is no evidence of its origin and only hearsay. As the story goes this is actually a curse for to live in “interesting times” suggests there is much happening in your life and often times turmoil rather living a quiet, nondescript or boring existence.
Our “new normal” due to the COVID-19 Virus complicates our lives and is potentially lethal. Not to dwell on this fact, but merely to state the obvious, my “dash” might be affected and thereby my legacy may also be affected. Now I’m not one to live my life in fear yet I’m taking seriously what the scientific and healthcare experts are advising. My situation is complicated by the fact that I’m a full-time caregiver for my elderly mother who is at a higher risk. Had I only myself to account for, the equation would be different.
So what to do during these “interesting Times?” It occurs to me to get on it, meaning to focus on taking action on those things that will make a difference and leave a legacy going forward. Sure, there are numerous things that aren’t feasible at the current moment, yet there are things I can and we all can be doing. The following is a list of just some of the things for consideration I’ve been pondering and working on that perhaps just might spark an interest in others. I can only hope it might inspire folks to bring out their better angels.
For many people, questions of legacy are very clear — their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren are a big part of their what they are passing down to the next generation. While I never had any children of my own, progeny is not likely an option (although George Clooney and his wife Amal had twins when he was 57, so who knows?)
What options might there be for folks like me and/or other people looking to leave a legacy? Steve Jobs wanted to “make a dent in the universe.” I suggest most people aren’t that ambitious and many are just trying to get by.
Here are my top 10 recommendations so far:
1) Volunteer. There is so much need out there. Pick a cause, use your expertise and make a positive difference.
2) Create. I’m working on a grant to produce a photography exhibition. Others have different skills such as music and other art forms. Apply for grants/submit work for Artists on Mainstreet or other similar organizations.
3) Build. I’ve helped build three “Bottle Schools” in Guatmala and would like to participate with Habitat for Humanity.
4) Mentor. Young and Old are hungry for your experience and attention.
5) Teach. Now more than ever educators are needed.
6) Donate. Time or treasure or both.
7) Share your story. Write articles for local publications or give presentations
8) Bridge cultural and religious divides
9) Be a caregiver
10) Restore natural spaces
The Greek have a saying — Plant a tree knowing full well that they won’t be alive to see it fully mature yet knowing that others in the future will benefit from it. Like it or not we are living in and experiencing “interesting times.” My hope and wish is that the adversity we are about to experience will bring out the best in our human nature and not the worst. Time will tell.