I believe that if, at the end of it all, according to our abilities, we have done something to make others a little happier, and something to make ourselves a little happier, that is about the best we can do. To make others less happy is a crime. To make ourselves unhappy is where all crime starts. We must try to contribute joy to the world. That is true no matter what our problems, our health, our circumstances. We must try. I didn’t always know this, and am happy I lived long enough to find it out.
This quote is from film critic and writer Roger Ebert in a recent article in Esquire. This is a man who’s reaching towards the end of his life, who’s made a fair impact and will be remembered by many after he’s gone, and who has accepted with grace some serious physical issues the last couple of years. And this statement made a serious impact on me.
All my life I’ve had this obsession with being remembered after I’m gone. I spent most of my childhood trying to differentiate myself from my three much older sisters — they were Girl Scouts, I was a Camp Fire Girl, they played the piano, I insisted on learning the clarinet, they were, as I sometimes still think of us (and if any of my sisters are reading this, I hope they take it in the lighthearted manner I intend), the three June Cleaver clones and the one that didn’t take. They all married in their early to mid twenties and I became an aunt for the first time just before I turned fifteen. I had acquired six niblings, as a friend calls his, by the time I was nineteen. This was not the beginning of my determination that I did not want children of my own — my first memory along those lines is from about age six, and I’ve never regretted not having them. But it certainly didn’t change my attitude, and it was definitely a part of my differentiating myself from them.
But when you don’t have children, you don’t have that automatic next generation that will remember you, fondly or not. In my case, I needed (and still need) to find something to replace that, so that when I am gone, eventually, my existence on the earth won’t just vanish.
I have spent a lot of time trying to leave something positive and tangible behind. My former line of work (I used to be a librarian) was — problematic in this regard. Yes, I spent most of my time helping people, but I never had anything I could point to and say, yes, there’s what I did (well, except for the time I wound up in the acknowledgements in the book Winnie the Pooh on Success by Roger and Stephen Allen, but that’s a long story). I’m not sure my future line of work is going to be any better in that regard. My hobbies, well, my last entry was a small step in that direction.
Then I run up against this quotation, and I’m not sure what to think. It’s almost as if I’ve had something yanked out from under me, but in a good way.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m still on the hunt for things to do and make and create that will outlive me. But I think I may change the focus of what I’m looking for a bit because of this.
So. Do you agree with Mr. Ebert? If you don’t have children (or even if you do), what are your feelings about your own personal legacy? And what are you doing about it?