By Hugh McGeary, Managing Director, Counselling Services, Catholic Family Service
I recently attended a conference in Edmonton. Normally, I would renew my acquaintance with quite a few people from organizations I knew or worked with when I lived there 20 years ago.
This time was quite different. It had been a few years since I attended a conference there and I found that, in the room of 400 people, only a very few remained who knew of me and my time in Edmonton. I recently turned 65 – perhaps that is why so many of my cohort have now retired . . . or expired!
It was a strange experience to find that after spending many years in Edmonton, during an important growing part of my life and career, all the ripples I imagined I had created were now gone.
The surface of the lake was calm.
At first this was disturbing, creating some angst and questions about life and its meaning and whether a person matters once their time in the world has passed. But as I reflected, I came to a place of peace with this. I realized that what is truly important is who you are now, in this time and place. Imagining that what you are doing is having a lasting impact is perhaps about ego and the fear of not mattering once you are gone. Doing things to create a legacy or to be remembered by others is not as important as being the best version of yourself that you can be right now. In fact, doing them for the purpose of being remembered perhaps lessens the meaning of the gift.
In Calgary, we are blessed with a group of donors who choose to remain anonymous, supported by an organization that allows people to fund important initiatives and projects without anyone knowing who is behind it. There are no plaques, articles or photo ops about those who donate, no sign on a wall or building named after them acknowledging the donation. Yet the money they contribute has a big impact on our community and the people in it.
I would like to strive for this: to give freely, to smile at someone, to listen to their story, to give someone the benefit of the doubt and to choose to see them as struggling, as we all do. I would like to do this without measuring whether it is noticed or appreciated, or if anyone has given me credit. Maybe no one will remember my name over time and the lake will appear calm once I am gone. But I know now this is not what is really important and I am at peace with that. It feels good.
Rip Van Winkle is a character in an 1819 story who falls asleep for many years and wakes to find the world as he had known it was gone.