Almost four years ago when I had returned to Ontario for my oldest daughter’s memorial service, I had opportunity to visit my elderly aunt in her retirement home in the small town of Elmira. Great visit! Of my late father’s nine siblings, she is the only one still alive.
I grew up in Elmira so we reminisced about locals who had been important to either of us in the past.
On the subject of teachers, most names and faces had faded away, save one in particular, my high school science teacher, Mr. Ernie Kendall. He told good stories and got me interested in science. He was the only teacher who encouraged me to go on to university. I always had a sense he really cared about me.
But that was more than half a century ago.
Then my aunt dropped a bomb: “Ernie Kendall is still alive at 100 and he lives in the nursing care unit of this facility.” After goodbyes with my aunt, I went to see Mr. Kendall.
He did appear to be “mentally out of it,” that is, until I identified myself. He came alive immediately, greeted me and asked about me and my younger brothers, whom he also remembered teaching. We had a short but wonderful visit and I was able to thank him in person for what he had meant to me. What a gift! Mr. Ernie Kendall died a year and a half later at 101.
Why did I remember only one teacher? I realized on reflection that the list of people I remember clearly are people who cared, people who made a difference in my life, people close to my heart.
As you look back over your life, do you remember the people with the most prestigious credentials, the most money or the most accolades? Or like me, do you remember those souls who cared and made a difference to your life?
Anyone who has had to confront the reality of their mortality wonders about how they will be remembered after they’re gone. But the question needs to be taken a little deeper: “Will I be remembered at all?”
The point is that how you cared and loved and made a difference to others is not only what people will remember of you, but a principal factor in whether you will be remembered at all as time passes. That is your legacy to your family and community. Memories of your credentials and achievements fade quickly.
As we enter 2013, I invite you to take a few minutes to reflect on what you are building as your personal legacy.
Dr. Neill is a Central-Island Registered Psychologist. You can reach him at 250-752-8684 or through his website www.neillneill.com/contact.