"Every man's heart one day beats its final beat, his lungs breathe their final breath and if what that man did in his life makes the blood pulse through the body of others and makes them believe deeper in something larger than life, then his essence, his spirit will be immortalized."
I was inspired to write something about leaving a legacy a little less than a month ago. The above quote, spoken by the immortal Ultimate Warrior just days before his passing, was an almost haunting description of what a legacy means. With his passing, the world lost someone who was not only passionate about what he did, but who he did it for. Another untimely passing that contributed to this conversation in my head was Lacey Holsworth, or Princess Lacey, who was featured for her inclusion in MSU's basketball team's culture. Ultimately, she succumbed to the cancer that had invaded her body, but not before she left a lasting impression on that program and those who followed her story.
These 2 examples, one from a 54 year old professional entertainer and one from an 8 year old who just wanted to live a normal, healthy life, served as inspiration for searching my own mind for what a legacy meant to me. Though they share a commonality in the exposure of their stories, they couldn't be more different people or have a greater difference in life stories.
Life is something of an anomaly. We constantly get caught up in the wrong things, hurt the ones we care most about, and ignore the bigger picture. We laugh, we fight, we love, we fall, we succeed, we rationalize... it's just so erratic. One thing I think any sane person can admit to is life is sacred. No matter what you do in life, you exist alongside a number of people so inherently different from you that they are considered "others", beings outside your own perceived existence. They have their own consciousness, dreams, agendas, emotions - and you can affect any one of those things. Whether you choose to or inadvertently do so, we make impressions on people all the same.
The little boy you just waved at? It may be trivial to you, but he'll remember that for whatever reason. That elderly couple that you went out of your way to hold the door for? They appreciate that and see what kind of people are still around in this world. That decision you made to become a nurse? Your little cousin is inspired by your willingness to help other people.
The examples can literally go on and on and on. But what I'm trying to get at is we have such an influence on those around us that it's hard for me NOT to think about what all of it means in the grand scheme of things. The Ultimate Warrior was a professional wrestler known for his energy and his long-winded, rambling promos. If you ask anyone who has ever been into pro wrestling, he was an ethereal character whose limits knew no human bounds. He was supposed to be other-worldly, and who were you to believe otherwise?
I didn't know James Hellwig personally. I knew the Ultimate Warrior, and that's good enough for me. He could have been a terrible person outside of his persona for all I know. What mattered was what he did with those tassels and face paint on. He took down legends in the WWF (now WWE) and did so with so much energy and enthusiasm that you would be insane not to cheer for him at one time or another.
And Lacey...this angelic little 8 year old didn't have the opportunity to become larger than life like the Ultimate Warrior did. But, that didn't stop her from leaving something behind that was bigger than herself. ESPN did a number of features on her story, and while I followed casually, I knew the instant I saw the story that it was special. Embraced by not only the MSU Men's Basketball program, but her favorite player himself, Adreian Payne, Lacey showed what fearless meant. In front of her was a bleak, complicated future. All she saw, though, was love and compassion and admiration from anyone who could reach out to her. Even after her passing, I know that her impression was left on MSU, and it will be there for a long time. It will also stay with those who connected to that story, regardless of their collegiate allegiances or personal stories. At a young age, Princess Lacey managed to leave a legacy.
It amazes me the abuse people endure on the road to leaving their legacy. Whether it's intentional like the Ultimate Warrior, or involuntary like Princess Lacey, ultimately, there is a sacrifice that comes with leaving your mark on peoples' lives. While Brian Hellwig harmed himself with years of bodily abuse, he saw it as a worthy cause. He inspired people with his actions and his persona's charisma. He actively harmed his "self" for the greater cause. Lacey, on the other hand, had already been put in the position of suffering from a great disease. The damage had been done, but in all of it, she found people who were willing to reach out and comfort her as best they could. They tried their best to show this young girl what living was like, what normal was like.
It is in these drastic difference in cases that moved me enough to ask people what they would remember me for if I were gone tomorrow. I asked a good number of people; old/new friends, acquaintances, teammates, colleagues...anyone I felt comfortable enough to ask the question to. Some responded right away, others needed some time to think, others said they would answer and never got back, and some might have missed the notification because I didn't get a response. It was enlightening to me what people said they'd remember me for.
This whole concept was started in my head when I thought to myself about what I would leave people with once I was gone. I'm young. I'm 23 and don't think I have a lot to show for it. I wasn't fishing for compliments when I asked these people what they would remember me for. I was curious to see if I had actually done something worthwhile with my time so far. I had some good responses:
- My energy and aura/presence seemed to come up a lot. I'd say these were the 2 most common things I heard. Some variations were authentic energy or tangible energy.
- The ability to project my happiness and vibrancy on others while in their presence, and have an infectious smile and laugh
- Sincerity and genuineness that is unmatched
- Taking people for who they are, understanding who I am, and showing people how to be comfortable in their own skin
- Integrity and discipline that others respect and strive towards
- Extremely loyal and honest, even when it'd be easier to say what people want to hear
- I command respect and don't abuse the influence I may have over others
- How I keep things simple, don't sweat the small stuff, and am the kind of friend people should aspire to be
The list of things here is only a small, condensed excerpt from almost 2 pages of responses. Some are combined from different people, others are standalone...but the reason I listed them was it showed me and can show other people how others may perceive you. I had some great responses from the people I knew least, and even no response from people I hold closest to me. Regardless, it enlightened me as to what kind of person I am to people, both specifically and generally.
In the end, we don't need to have a special circumstance to leave a legacy we can be proud of. The love and support of the people I reached out to shows me that if I really were gone tomorrow, I would have left something I would be proud of. I don't have any intention of going anywhere anytime soon, but its nice to see what only 23 years of, in the grade scheme and relative scope of things, an average life can do for some people.
I think we should be aware of the influence we have on other people. You don't have to live your life for others, or even go out of your way for them. You should still live for yourself and keep your own hopes and dreams and ideals alive. But, you should also be conscious of those around you. You never know what small, trivial thing to you may mean to someone. It could be all the difference in their life.
Leave your mark. Do it your own way. And don't be anyone else but you. You'll find that people appreciate who you are.
To finish with a quote from a phenomenal movie, The Crow, "Nothing is ever trivial."
Till next time, stay classy.