Listen, people aren’t going to remember your problems or your excuses for why you’re always in a crabby mood; they’re going to remember your attitude, your spirit. Creating a legacy of love and laughter lies in choosing joy, over and over and over again, until it becomes habit.
My Grandpa Snow passed away when I was a toddler, so I don’t remember him, but my Grandma Snow died when I was around 10 years old, and I remember her. I recall her contagious laugh (more like a mischievous giggle, really), and her spirit of love. Once I asked her if I could have a quarter for a pack of Elvis trading cards (hey, Elvis was “da bomb” when I was a kid, so don’t judge me!). She dug into her coin purse without even thinking twice, but didn’t just give me a quarter, she gave me a handful and said, “Here, go give one to your cousins and your sister too!”
She was a cool lady.
Then there are the “cockadoodies,” as Annie from “Misery” would call them. Those with a foul spirit. We had a gentleman in the family who passed away a few years ago, and for anonymity’s sake, we’ll call him “Enoch.” Enoch, it seemed, was always angry, and his smile was rare. I was always afraid to approach him with an issue, and nearly got myself thrown in jail when I was a kid because I lied to him after I’d accidentally broken his yard rake. I was so nervous, my 12-year-old brain created an imaginary “neighborhood gang” (nonexistent in 70s small-town Missouri) who had carried out the dastardly act.
It backfired on me, however, when Enoch told one of my aunts. Man, she freaked right out and called the cops, saying, “Nobody is going to threaten my family!” Twenty minutes later I was standing on her porch, trying to create the perfect fantasy mob for the police. The only gangs I was even vaguely familiar with were in the movie, “The Warriors,” so my description ended up sounding like a cross between The Baseball Furies and The Turnbull ACs.
But I digress…
The point is, Enoch’s mean spirit made me feel threatened, and that I couldn’t tell the truth. The punishment would be too harsh, I thought. He would be too angry, and felt backed into a corner so dark that lying appeared the only way out.
As another example, I recall when my daughter was a little girl and I was putting her to bed. She had left her favorite stuffed animal under the bed, and said, “Sorry, daddy, I just have to grab my bear real quick.” I was about half-asleep and must’ve sighed or rolled my eyes or something, giving her the impression her delay was bothering me, because she had a look on her face I still, to this day, can’t shake from my memory. It was not quite fear; more like disappointment, like she let me down. I let my fatigue get the best of me and hurt her feelings.
Some days I feel I’ve spent the last 20 years trying to erase that look from her face. She doesn’t remember the “incident,” such as it was, but I do.
Let’s not sugar-coat it: those of us who deal with chronic pain, depression, anxiety, etc, hurt those we love the most, more often than we’d like. As hard as we try, that’s still going to happen now and again. All we can do is try harder next time.
I guess the question is: what do you want for a legacy? When people remember you, will they let out an exasperated sigh or a giggle? Will they grin or grimace?
Being remembered fondly means making the choice to smile when you want to sigh, a hundred times a day. It means forgiving others, when all you really want to do is “thump their gourd,” as my dad says.
So laugh when you feel like crying, and smile when you feel like dying, and someday, many years from now, someone will grin when they remember you.