Being a Jesuit University, trying to cultivate people for others, the idea of having an impact on people at a very personal level is prevalent in seminars and sermons across campus. We are people who want to help people and want other people to help people, too. It is the hope that the things we do will inspire others to pass the goodness forward, and our actions will, in a way, act like a LinkedIn of philanthropy: the generosity will spread exponentially and rouse a generous spirit in all.
A similar goal can be pursued in a less altruistic way: inspiration through personal accomplishment. It is easy and common to pursue, especially in college, goals that impress others. Surely, the essential motivation comes from personal interest. However, in the back of one’s mind, there is an ounce of belief that the things we do will leave a lasting impact on the people and situations we leave behind in each stage of our lives.
My senior year and the circumstances encompassing it have brought with them many questions of priority, identity and the future. Being the captain of perhaps the best JCU cross country team the school has seen has made me feel like part of something bigger, especially coming from a four consecutive year streak of finishing eighth in the conference. Mine is essentially the last surviving class that remembers the old days of poor training, racing and results. Having witnessed the turning point, I can’t help but evaluate my contribution to this change and wonder where it’s headed.
Though having a legacy is our hope, does it represent any truth in reality?
Having a lasting resonance can take many forms. If one is a scholar, athlete, doctor, businessman, musician, writer, etc., the manner in which each respective form of work is carried out sculpts our impact out of different media. Each have powerful effects, but the ways that they outlast an individual’s presence differ.
An athlete can have statistical records so they live on in numerical form. A scholar, writer or musician’s legacy carries on in their creations. A doctor’s endowment can continue to exist in either the research or developments they make. Or, perhaps, they are remembered only because they have saved lives and those people and their posterity are testament to that doctor’s presence and actions in the world. In the case of saints with incorruptible bodies, we know they were probably very holy, nice people. However, they are mostly remembered today (creepily) for their inability to decay.
No matter how a person is remembered, eventually part of them will fizzle away. Though the athlete, doctor or whomever may have been immensely capable and talented and made much progress or achieved many quantifiable things, what is most often lost is who exactly that person was. It could be that George Washington was a huge jerk. Maybe Charlemagne was a big softy with a weakness for croissants. We’ll never know.
Often, we’re told to keep things in perspective. While a lot of the menial tasks we carry out each day are inconsequential in the scheme of a year or five, it is hard to know when something or a series of somethings is going to have more lasting effects and who our decisions are going to effect and for how long. It is difficult to put ourselves, our entirety, in perspective.
Some might advise to be mindful of everything you do. Make sure you’re never doing anything that could become regrettable. The thing is, the hypothetical scenarios are endless and constantly trying to consider everything would only add to the exhaustion of life. Yet, being nihilistic about everything isn’t a great idea either. There is one thing of which we can be sure: things we do will have a legacy of some kind. Everything that has been and is today shapes what is to become, so we should keep that in the back of our minds.
To me, there is no surefire way we can go about developing our legacy so we know as few bad things as possible will come out of it. Coming to that conclusion, I think trying to leave every situation minutely better than when we came to it is a good place to start. If it turns out that valiant efforts bring about bad results down the line, it’s probably because someone dumb screwed it up; it’s out of your hands, then.
Part, if not most, of our being will dissipate in the future; this isn’t something to fear. I’ve acknowledged and become comfortable with the fact that the stories of my facial hair, wild ways and lack of footwear will only be passed around the team for four or so more years. With the loss of each detail of a person, room is made for new, notable characters, and give them a chance to leave a better mark than we did. At the very least, we’ll be off the hook for most of the stupid stuff we’ve done.