By: JD Author, Reporter-Journalist

The things you do for yourself are gone when you are gone, but the things you do for others remain. 

They become your legacy. 

~Ndukwe Kalu

 

They say that there are only two things in life that are definite, death and taxes.  Taxes suck as we all know quite well each spring as we shuffle to get our forms in on time at the IRS, every time we pay the city, county or state for the things we own, and every time we stare at the receipt when we leave a store.  But what about that death and the impact it has?  Taxes may be a thing of permanency, but death, although the flesh is gone, it does not mean that we are. We live on if we choose.  That is our legacy.  The beauty of death is, if we choose, we can make it a beautiful thing that will impact those we love, who are left behind, a legacy.

Look back at those who have gone on before us.  When people who were beloved to others while alive, they never are truly gone when they leave us. The impact they make on our lives, the warmth they bring to our hearts when we think of them, and the memories we hold, keep them alive in our thoughts.  They become “frozen in time”, they become their legacy.

I think about the wonderful memories I have of my grandmother and her legacy over the 9 decades plus that she was alive.  What a remarkable journey and a legacy she left behind for me to reflect on.  In her early years, before I was even born, she was quite the go-getter when it came to making a difference in her community. Her selfless acts of doing for others live on in the stories of her childhood and youth and chasing the food trains to collect discarded morsels to help feed her 6 younger siblings, who were hungry and poor.  Her mother worked hard to provide for them.  Her father worked as well, but spent the majority of his income on alcohol.  In the early 1920’s one did not have a food pantry to rely on when things got tight and there wasn’t much to put on the table.

My grandmother would run along the railroad tracks in Farmer’s City, Indiana, waiting for the trains heading through to Chicago that carried fruits and vegetables to the cities wealthy.  They would often throw out the side of the storage cars all the food not fit for the upper society, before heading into the main station.  My grandmother would collect the bruised fruits and tainted vegetables, so she could take them home so her mother could salvage edible parts to feed them.  She never thought twice about the risks of a fruit crate hitting her or slipping and falling onto the tracks.  Her only thought was helping her mother to feed her brothers and sisters. Not only was that selfless, it was courageous.

Later in her life she stood out among some family for her gutsy determination to be different than most wives and mothers of her time. In the early 40’s, back when women were busy working only to keep their homes, children and husband organized, clean and tidy, my grandmother went above and beyond to fight the city of Detroit, to try and make a difference. Long before Detroit became the pit of trash and degradation it has become today, my grandmother fought the city over dump sites and the spreading of waste next to schools and parks when they decided to just pitch city trash collected next to a school in a poorer neighborhood, with no regard to the smell, leakage into the ground and risks it placed on people and their health.  After calling city officials and trying to see who would respond and getting no positive results, she took action.   She became one of the first women to launch a one-woman campaign and start a petition against the city of Detroit.

Door to door, pushing her small children in a buggy, she collected enough signatures and eventually the city made changes.  But of course not after receiving some scorn from men and their disdain to a woman speaking up against the city, after all women back then shouldn’t have a voice.  Sure women earned the right to vote in 1920, but they were still considered people without much of a voice. Not my grandmother, she wanted everyone to hear her, no matter what they thought.  How many of us today have that kind of determination to speak out when everyone else stays silent when we see something that isn’t right?

My grandmother carried this giving spirit and kindness for everyone and everything throughout the rest of her life.  I can recall many a time when she spent her last few years with me that her courage never left.  She may have started moving slower, forgetting inanimate facts, dates and times, but she never lost the ability to feel kindness and love to share.  Even at age 91 she would beg me to help her into the car, so we could pass out sandwiches to the hungry and homeless, always reminding me “but for the grace of God, that is not us, and we should share our bounty with those who have not”.  That sticks with me to this day.

Every time I recall those wonderful people in my life that are “frozen in time”, I think about my legacy.  If I could only accomplish half the compassion and caring my grandmother did, I would feel I had accomplished something. I often ask myself what can I do today, that will be remembered when I am physically gone?  What can I do to impact the generations to follow me?

What are you doing to create lasting memories after your gone?  What are you going to be remembered by those who know you when you’re gone?  What will your legacy be?  Will you be “frozen in time”?  Or is your heart beyond compassion and be only known for the coldness it currently contains?  Reach out, make changes, create a memories your family will admire and learn to carry on through memories of your life.

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