Sometimes it seems all we’re doing is sitting on this planet, waiting as it spins. Whether we’re waiting to become its next crop of fertilizer, or if we’re waiting for some other, greater, reward, at times it feels like we’re only here long enough to eventually be forgotten. Only the great can make their mark. Only the powerful or the truly gifted can rise from the masses and etch themselves on the face of history. Only the elite, the seemingly pre-chosen few, can alter the course of others’ lives. And those people know who they are, and by the time we reach a certain age, most of us realize we’re not one of them.
I thought about this yesterday while sitting in the memorial service for a friend’s ninety-nine year-old grandmother. As one-by-one the mourners stood to say their goodbyes to this seemingly ordinary woman, it became evident she had forever reshaped numerous lives with her mere presence. The Big People in the world like to say that it is they who make the largest difference, that it is they who mold the face of this world. They’re probably right. Still, many times the more important — the more deeply felt — change comes from those around us, from the ones striving to make their own life a better one. Whether its a parent determined to give their child what they never had, or a spouse desperate for a marriage to work when their own parents’ before them failed, it’s these alterations in the fabric of our existence that add up to a far greater whole than the history books can ever relate. The reverberations of these private efforts are the ones that hit us the hardest, that make us in turn want to place our own stamp during the short time allotted us on this twirling globe.
So, we spin, wait, and work. Even if we’re not consciously aware of it, we are indeed working to better this life we’re given, to improve the quality of the fate that’s been handed us. Sometimes we succeed. Sometimes we don’t. But it’s in trying that we shape ourselves, and others. I saw proof of this yesterday in the kind, wrinkled face of a bespectacled woman in a hazy photograph. I heard it in the quavering recollection of a motherless young woman raised and nurtured by her already aged grandmother. I felt it in the sadness hanging in the air around me, in the deafening silence of a roomful of people’s acknowledgment that a changing force had departed this earth for good. It was a humbling experience.
Yesterday reminded me that in my rush to take on the world, I need to remember everything is relative, and it won’t be the American definition for success that will make my life worth recalling when I’m gone, but rather the smaller, less widely noticed of my actions. After all, nothing is eternal. And what’s the worth of going down in the temporal pages of human legend if all of those who could actually remember me as a person couldn’t put their heads together and come up with one good thing to say?