I don’t think it’s a unique thought to have. We’ve all, at some point in our lives, wondered about it. The depth and severity might vary, but it’s a very human thing to ponder. At least, I assume it is, but you know what they say about assumptions.
In an attempt to avoid looking like the rear end of a donkey (exaggerated Scottish accent and all), I’m going to make this personal. I’ve had the thought come and go. Sometimes it lingers and causes a bit of grief. There are episodes of bemused wonderings that flitter in and flutter by with a shake of the head.
But it’s a grim concept, and I shouldn’t bring it up. It’s a sure-fire way to trigger a mass exodus or complete avoidance. There’s a voice in my head screaming, shut up, you fool. I should probably listen. It’s not wrong, but here I go, once more into the fog. Let’s voice a thought that will scare everyone away.
Deep breaths, my friend, because this is a heavy one. When I leave this mortal plane, and begin my new existence on the other side, will my life have mattered? Did I make a difference, or did I take up space? When they remember me, will it be with fondness or indifference? When I’m gone, will there be a void that can’t be filled, or will I be easily replaced?
Yeah, it’s a morbid trail to traverse and, if you’re anything like me, you do everything in your power to pay it little mind. Where are the unicorns and bunnies? I need rainbows, sunshine, and ocean waves crashing onto sandy beaches.
If you’ll stick with me? I promise this will end on a happier note.
Maybe it’s the passing of time and the increase in age. The older we get, the more we think about things like this. We’re all creeping closer to the finish line, so, I suppose, it’s only natural. Or, it’s just me and my intrinsic tendency to reside in the fringes of sanity. That could be it. My thoughts lean towards the shadows and sidestep the light.
This time, though, a trigger was pulled, and a bullseye was hit. The good old cause and effect strikes again. It couldn’t leave well enough alone, could it? Nope, fate saw an opportunity, and it went on the offensive. Damn you, why couldn’t you just chill the fuck out for once?
I came home the other day, and one of my neighbours broke the news. We knew it was coming. It was just a matter of time, but we were hoping there would be more of it. On the other hand, an argument could be made that time showed mercy.
It was expected, but I wasn’t expecting grief to knock the wind out of me. We hardly knew each other. Our relationship was surface deep, but it was, apparently, more meaningful than I realized.
Her name was Gail, and she lived down the hall from me. She’d been sick for years, but it reached its peak a few weeks ago. An ambulance took her to the hospital, but she was transferred to a hospice a few days later. There was nothing they could do for her except make her comfortable.
They thought she had a couple more months, but that was too optimistic. She passed away eight days later. She was in her eighties and, by her own measure, she’d lived a good life. She wasn’t afraid of the end. In fact, she said it wasn’t the end but the beginning of a new adventure.
As far as these sort of things go? I can’t think of a better way to meet my end and say goodbye. I like the idea of something new and exciting waiting on the other side of mortality. When one story ends another begins? Yeah, that’s a beautiful perspective.
When I moved in, Gail was one of the first people that welcomed me to the building. We’d chat in the hallways from time to time. It was always a joy, even though it was always quick, and I looked forward to seeing her. Whenever she saw me, she’d ask me how I was doing and when I asked her the same, she’d say, “Hanging in there.”
When I had the blasted virus near the beginning of the pandoodle, she’d knock on my door every day to check on me. She didn’t want me to get lonely in quarantine or lose my mind. I told her it was a little late for the latter, but that didn’t stop her from coming by. Her visits were short and sweet. “How’re you doing in there?” I’d say I was hanging in there, and she laughed before going about her day.
Over the summer, when my loved one was in the hospital and we didn’t know if they would make it; Gail would watch for me to come home and meet me at the elevator. Again, the conversation was short, but she wanted to make sure I was okay. She’d give me a physically distant hug, and then we’d part ways with a smile.
She was unfailing kind to me, but I wouldn’t say we were friends. We were neighbourly. Yeah, I think that’s a good word for it. We helped each other when we needed it. We had good conversations when our paths crossed. But we weren’t particularly close so, when I heard that her journey had come to an end, the rush of emotions surprised me.
My heart sank, my throat closed, and my eyes welled up with tears. She was gone. My breath passed my lips in a rush. I wouldn’t hear her gravely laugh again. She wouldn’t yell at me from her balcony, “How’s it going?” There wouldn’t be another physically distant hug. Most of all, her simple kindness had fallen quiet.
Whew, I’m getting choked up again.
Whenever these questions of mortality and legacy come up, I often think of things in grand terms. I know there will never be a statue of me in a park. I’ll never do anything monumental enough to get a holiday named after me. I’m as ordinary as a person can be so, will my life count for anything?
But I’m sitting here, thinking about a woman I barely knew and grieving her loss. She impacted my life by simply being kind when I was vulnerable. I’ll remember her for the rest of my life because her kindness was simple, pure, and uncomplicated. That’s her legacy, and I’d say it’s a profound one. At least, for me, because I was a direct beneficiary of it.
I think that’s something we— or, just me— take for granted. The long-lasting impact of the simplest act of kindness. A five-minute conversation through a closed door can be a saving grace when you’re alone. A hug at the elevator can hold you together when you’re falling apart. A shared laugh at the right moment works miracles on our mental health.
We never know how close to the edge someone’s walking. We don’t know the weight of the baggage they’re carrying. There’s so much we don’t know about each other, but none of that matters. Not when we greet each other with kindness.
It sounds a little cliched, and maybe I’m riding an out-of-control unicorn. The cynic in me is rolling her eyes. Are we gonna join hands and sing, “All you need is love,” and meditate? The Beatles are great, but come on now. Are you serious?
Yeah, I think I am. Despite my natural tendencies to avoid the light, live on the edges of sanity, and wholeheartedly embrace cynicism? This might be a bit out of character, but I’d rather my legacy be something more meaningful than a pigeon roost in a park.
Being kind is the simplest thing in the world, but it can have a long-lasting effect. Long after we’re gone, someone will talk about the person who saw them at their lowest and showed them love. It’s uncomplicated, gentle, and most of all, it doesn’t get lost in the noise. It saves a life, and it takes so little effort.
That’s Gail’s legacy, and it will stay with me for the rest of my life. She didn’t try to be kind; she just was. She was caring, loving, gentle and funny. What could be more meaningful than that? For me, it was everything.
Traditionally, I’d say rest in peace, but she didn’t believe in that sort of thing. She was setting out on a grand adventure so, Gail, Bon voyage. May your next journey be filled with as much love as you gave, and as much kindness as your heart can handle.