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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?