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Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Listen to the Quiet

I love being in nature, away from the crowds. I also love to travel and visit new places, and when I'm at home for more than a month or two, I get restless.

So this photograph, which I took a few years ago during an autumn hiking trip to Death Valley, reminds me of the solitude nature provides and of humankind's insignificance in the greater scheme of things. It also reminds me of why I love nature. So many people these days can't stand to be left alone with their thoughts. Either they always want to be surrounded by people, or they must have a radio or television on.

Not me. I enjoy the quiet. Sometimes I will put the radio on when I'm home, but generally my house is quiet. I mute television commercials and I have started recording my favorite television programs so I can fast-forward through the commercials. Who needs the shrill, screaming voices of commercials anyway?

I like the sound of the wind, and hearing coyotes howling. We don't have song birds where I live in the high desert, but sometimes I can hear quail and road runners, or even a cooper's hawk that has a nest in a nearby tree.

On a recent trip to South Africa, as I lay in bed in my tent, I heard the wonderful sounds of lions growling and of one or more elephants trumpeting nearby. What a treat it was to hear such sounds!

The point is, we need to listen to the quiet. How we do this is an individual choice. Some people pray, others meditate, some sit peacefully in a garden or enjoy a solo hike, while others just let their minds wander. 

Slow down, stop and listen to the quiet.

Friday, May 6, 2016

What Will Your Legacy Be?

Do you ever wonder what your legacy will be?

I think about this sometimes, more so lately as I have been dealing with some (so far) non-serious health issues. I recently read about a man, a keeper for the animals in an elephant orphanage in Nairobi, Kenya, who had no education, could barely read and write, but who left behind a wonderful legacy of love and service when he died recently in his 40s.

So leaving a great legacy doesn't require tons of money, or a brilliant mind or lots of education. It doesn't require being a public figure, known and recognized by many. Certainly, Nelson Mandela left a great legacy, and he was known by millions. But this simple Kenyan man worked for 16 years caring for elephants whose mothers had been killed. I have visited the orphanage three times, and I didn't know his name. Yet he left behind a wonderful legacy of love and care for some of Africa's most vulnerable animals. What a legacy does require is a great heart, passion for a cause, and lots of love, plus actions to put that love into effect.

So I asked myself what legacy I will leave behind. It won't be a hospital or research center with my name on it. It won't be a Pulitzer Prize-winning book or a ground-breaking discovery. But I hope my legacy, as limited as it may be, will be that I touched the lives of a few others and made life better for them. I also would like my legacy to be that I looked for opportunities to do good in life without expecting anything in return. 

Although I don't have a lot of relatives or friends, I hope that those I leave behind will remember me as a person of kindness, love and generosity. Maybe they will remember that I volunteered at a local food pantry and at a wolf rescue, or that I donated my photographic talents to animal rescue groups. Maybe they will recall how I twice paid the tuition for my daughter's best friend so she could attend community college, or how I sponsored a deserving Kenyan student so she could attend high school for four years. Maybe part of my legacy will be the substantial financial donations I made to help animals in need, from dogs to elephants to wolves and whales. And let's not forget the dozen or so dogs I adopted and loved.

I want my legacy to be that my life made the world a better place. I know I made a positive impact on a young Russian girl, whom I adopted when she was 11 years old, and stood by through several turbulent years. She says that she got her love of animals from me, but she already possessed that love before I met her. Maybe I just helped her to develop and show her love.  

I hear about presidents and politicians working on their legacies, and they seem so lofty. Most of us won't have lofty legacies when we pass on. I know I won't. But each of us can leave an individual legacy, a history of love and kindness. We can, each in our own way, leave our mark on the world. Even simple acts of kindness and compassion can have a lasting effect on others.

What will your legacy be?