Episode 13: A Sparkling Legacy
Welcome to Sing With Your Feet, the podcast in which we come to grips with the fact that our days are numbered. The podcast in which we face the fact that our legacy is in our hands, and that how we use those days really does matter. The podcast in which we become the hero of our life story by the decisions we make.
My name is Lily Fields, and I am going to be your fairy godmother for the next half hour or so. Your wicked stepsister, LiElla Kelly, is here too. We have one topic on our minds today: that topic is Legacy.
A Legacy, according to its definition, is an amount of money left in a will. We aren’t talking about that kind of legacy in this episode. We are talking about the intangible kind of legacy people leave after they die.
We all know of people whose death was a real blow to us–I’m thinking of, recently, someone like the fabulous Betty White. She left a legacy of smiles, laughs, hours and hours of joy to many people. But more than that, let’s be honest, ladies, Betty White left us a legacy of what it would look like to age well. We can all only hope to die old and gorgeous and funny as she was!
We’re talking about that kind of legacy today.
I’m going to say this up front: as your fairy godmother, I have one very very very important wish for you: that you leave a sparkling legacy.
You may not have the same reach as Betty White, or the same number of full years that she did. But I want you to live your years to the fullest, just like she did.
But Lily… (That’s you. You sound like a southern belle, and if it bothers you, then just wait until the Philosopher Princess shows up a little later in the podcast.)
Lily, I don’t like to think about how my days are numbered.
I believe you! No one likes to think about the fact that we are mortal. But if we want to make the most out of our life, we must accept that the days and hours are limited and that we don’t know how many of them there will be.
I want you to make the most out of your life. Even if you are on the fence about this, I want it for you. I believe in you, you see.
Since the early episodes of the podcast, I have been making the argument that you are someone extraordinary, someone uniquely gifted for a specific purpose on this planet. You are a hero. Do you remember this? If not, I want you to go back to listen to the first three episodes of the podcast, and then come back.
You are a hero with exactly three things going for you: your time, your talent and your treasure. How you choose to use those three resources is going to determine the life you live.
My hope is that, with the homework we have been doing together over the last 13 episodes, homework to unearth the treasures and talents that you may have even forgotten that you have, and the homework to start taking yourself, taking your well-being as seriously as you might that of someone you really want to impress, by treating yourself as an honored guest in your home, that you have rediscovered some of your talents and your treasures.
LiElla, your wicked stepsister has reminded you that we are all going to die one day. From her perspective, as a death doula, she told us that as people near death, they often regret not having lived according to their values. So we talked about ways to determine what our values are and how we can start living in such a way as to live according to our values, so that we don’t have to face deathbed regrets.
The truth is that our time is limited. We just simply don’t know how long we have. Whereas we might know what kind of talent we have, or how much treasure we have, we have absolutely no way of knowing how much time we have left.
This can be scary when we stop to think about it, and, paradoxically, very very easy to lose sight of as we go through the everyday drudgery of life.
Perhaps I should take a moment to remind you that some of the things we talk about here on this podcast can dislodge feelings…specifically when we talk about death and dying.
One-on-on, professional mental health support is a critical part to finding peace with our past, forgiving ourselves, and moving on to new seasons of our life.
If you need professional help, please do not wait to get it. Understood? Good girl.
Without getting too too spiritual about the whole thing, I believe that the stories of our lives were written before they ever began, and that they are stories for our good, for the good of those we love, for the good of those who live in this world with us.
Now, remember, I am married to a philosopher, so I am not ignorant of all the high-minded, well-reasoned arguments to the contrary, but this is what I have chosen to believe in my life, because honestly, it is the only way that I can live with any sense of purpose.
If you believe something else, I respect that. But please don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater.
I don’t have answers to the big philosophical questions like, “If God exists, why is there so much evil in the world?” or “Why do bad things happen to good people?” I wish I did.
All that I know is that, when I seek to live according to the original plan…keeping in mind that I don’t know what this ultimately looks like, but when I try to live in a way that puts faith, hope and love in the driver’s seat of my life, then I feel more peace.
Rather than bemoaning my lot in life because it isn’t turning out how I would like, I can believe that my current circumstances contain lessons for me to learn.
I can hope that these lessons might provide some insight into that ultimate plan, or if it doesn’t, at least it might help me understand the thoughts of the one who created me. A lot of those lessons are simply that I need to let go of my need to control everything. That I am insignificant and tiny and my impact is very small. Those are really important lessons to learn, when we–and be we, I mean “I” tend to be a prideful person.
Each time I capitulate and accept the circumstances of my life that I cannot change, it brings me into harmony with that original plan for my life…
As I actively consent to where I am now, I can bring myself closer to the original path…the one that I became distanced from through my lack of virtue, my unhappiness, my moodiness, my pride and all my other character flaws.
Again, if you are looking for some philosophical discussion on free-will and predestination, you aren’t going to get it from me. I am not smart enough to understand those arguments. I am only smart enough to understand how to live according to what I believe to be true.
That is why consenting to where I am now was the first step in our Ideal Life exercise. There are things that cannot be undone, there are illnesses that cannot be healed, there are relationships that cannot be reconciled. There are years wasted that we cannot unwaste. There are words said that cannot be unsaid. Facing those, forgiving myself for those and accepting that this is where I am starting from, I can begin to build again. Build a new a life, with tools that were already in my possession.
In Episode 3, entitled On Heaven and Dinosaur Poop, I shared with you what I like to imagine an arrival in heaven might look like. As a matter of fact, this little episode is important enough to me, that I am going to play that for you again here, so you don’t have to go back, hunt through the episode and look for it.
Here we go–
On Heaven and Dinosaur Poop:
I like to imagine heaven. Sometimes it looks like the costuming department at a well-endowed opera company.
Sometimes it’s like being at a music festival, where big names like King David and Mozart and Elvis are headlining. (This is one of my favorites. There is never a line for the bathroom and nobody is drunk. It’s fabulous.)
I also imagine heaven like being at an airport. Me, I’m just sitting there on my suitcase, minding my own business waiting for my flight, reading my copy of the National Enquirer, just like my Gigi used to–Hey, Agent K said it’s the best investigative reporting on the planet. I believe it.
While I’m reading about Bigfoot’s Secret Lumberjack Love Slave, and the man who fries eggs on his bald head, a crowd gathers nearby.
There are whispers, a flutter of excitement while a well dressed secret service contingent sweeps the concourse. Then the first members of an entourage surrounding someone very very important. There is intense agitation, then a man enters my line of sight.
He is the one everyone was whispering about. He is well dressed, wearing a chic all-black ensemble and is walking briskly, with purpose, but still takes time to greet the crowds that have gathered.
Me, even in my heaven fanfiction, remain distant and pretend I am not intrigued, all while secretly dying inside to stare.
With a gesture, he indicates to his entourage that he wants to stop their progress towards his gate. He slows down as he passes me.
My heart stops.
He lowers his sunglasses and smiles at me. I KNOW! Me!
And he asks me out for coffee (I order a chai with whipped cream. He pays cash, in case you were wondering.)
As we sit down in the corner booth, I finally recognize him. He is the one who gave me the gold coins. He wants to talk about what I’ve done with the bags of gold he gave me.
What did you do with those gold coins?
All right…it’s me, current-day Lily, back again. Did you enjoy that trip down memory lane? If you haven’t heard the whole episode 3, you should listen to it. In it, I go on to talk at length about Dinosaur Poop. It’s funny.
The point of today’s episode is start considering our answer to that question, “What did you do with those gold coins I gave you?”
You see, if we are willing to accept that we have those three resources, our time, our talent and our treasure, and that they were given specifically to us and specifically for a purpose, then isn’t it worth it to consider how we are using them? When we arrived at our last day, and the person who entrusted those resources, or these tools for building our life asked for an accounting of how we used them, that we might have an answer?
As we get older, and life gets more comfortable, as we get settled into routines and habits and relationships, it becomes difficult to feel urgency answering for how we used our time, our talent and our treasure.
Time, as it turns out, can be an insulator to living a life of purpose.
LiElla, your wicked Stepsister, has a story to tell about how with very little time, we can make an outsized impact.
There are no happy endings.
Endings are the saddest part,
So give me a happy middle
And a very happy start.
Shel Silverstein wrote those words. Four little lines that wrap up life, start to finish. Four little lines that can stop a person in their tracks. That’s what happened to me the first time I read them. I was scrolling through Instagram. There was a picture of my friends’ beautiful little blue-eyed girl, a 10 year-old who my son might someday have a crush on or who knows, maybe even marry. A petite little thing who loved Taylor Swift and would happily sing you snippets of her songs. A girl who filled her afternoons with good-hearted mischief…playfully locking her parents out of the car until they danced to her satisfaction or filling up water balloons to battle with her friends. And here she was on Instagram, Shel Silverstein’s poem under her picture. Like I said, it stopped me in my tracks. What was this all about? My brain started spinning wildly and then slowly, the pieces started floating into place. This poem. This little girl.
I soon learned that there had been an accident and this lovely, freckle nosed little charmer was gone. Pain gutted family and friends and swept through the community. As expected, a funeral was planned and on a hot July day, hundreds of people gathered. We didn’t know it, but we were about to get a lesson in legacy.
You might think that 10 years isn’t enough time to leave a legacy and if we’re sticking with the traditional, financial legacy, you’re right. But we’re not. I’m talking about what I consider to be a much more valuable legacy, the legacy of who we are, how we make people feel…the intangible gifts that we have to offer.
Back to that hot July day, hundreds had gathered in a city park under the big shade trees. Most of the women were wearing maxi skirts and pink nail polish, a nod to a favorite outfit that she had been planning to wear to a special event. Girls wore colorful duct tape bows in their hair and boys wore them as ties. She had made them all. After a beautifully delivered eulogy, a video began to play. Pictures drawn by her friends and happy photos flashed by, accompanied by the Taken By Trees version of Sweet Child of Mine. They sang the words, She’s got eyes of the bluest skies as the photos of family and friends flicked across the screen. Everyone cried…And then something amazing happened. The park transformed into a little girl’s dream. There were root beer floats, silly mustaches on sticks that you could hold under your nose to joke around. There were orange gerbera daisies, sushi, limonatas, cupcakes, Babybel cheese, orange and white Japanese lanterns. Excited chatter filled the air as children scrambled for treats and played on the grass. Framed poems by Shel Silverstein dotted the park. Everywhere you looked, her legacy was there. Her joyful personality, her favorite foods, silliness, pink fingernail polish, love, happiness, friendship, it was oozing all over the park. It oozed right into my heart and the hearts of everyone there. Her legacy became a part of us. Later, I would learn that all of those beautiful things had been donated by the community. A printery in a neighboring town donated the programs, the local firemen had donated the seating, restaurants and business people chipped in all the items that gave us a glimpse into a world created by a beautiful, bubbly 10 year-old girl.
A short life, only 10 years. Maya Angelou said, “Sometimes the people whom we’ve known for only a short amount of time have a bigger impact on us than those we’ve known forever”. Legacy isn’t dependent on how long we live or how much we have. It’s about making an impact that will last long after we die. It’s about who we are while we’re here. It’s about the way we make people feel. The way we’re remembered.
Knowing what you want your legacy to be, will influence the choices you make today, guiding you to live the way you want to be remembered. It will help you focus on what you value, on the things that are most important to you. And knowing what you want your legacy to be will help you to make better use of your time and resources now. So where do you start? Right here, with this question: In my ideal death, I am a person who what?
(Lily) Thank you, LiElla. What a beautiful story. I’ll put a link to the song in the show notes.
Our days are numbered
Our days are numbered: we simply do not know how many there will be.
I said earlier that time can be an insulator, especially when we are living a life that is far removed from the original plan, a plan that was intended to bring us joy and to bring good into this world. The vagaries of life have a way of numbing us to our purpose.
There are people, though, for whom something sudden snaps them back. For some, it could be an accident, or sudden illness. The death of someone they love. In a dramatic circumstances, like ones we’ve seen in the last few months, it could be war. Think of all those Ukrainian heroes, who, in the face of the loss of their country, have chosen to live lives of courage, taking up arms to defend it; even at the risk of losing their own lives.
Let me tell you something: I don’t know if I am that courageous. But I hope I would be.
I don’t know much about Volodomir Zelenskyy as a person, but I do know that he became famous in the 2000s as a comedian, an actor and a contestant on Ukraine’s Dancing with the Stars. That’s a far cry from the defiant, proud, courageous statesman that we have seen.
Whatever character traits he was born with, whatever skills he developed throughout his career, when In the face of a crisis, Zelenskyy has forged himself a legacy. He has become a real-life hero. He chose to leave a legacy of courage when he decided to stay and fight. He will be remembered for that.
Let me tell you something: when push comes to shove, it might be too late to start worrying about our legacy.
That’s why I want you to start now. I want you to start thinking now about what people are going to say about you after you are gone, because the decisions you make today about how you use your time, talent and treasure, but especially your time, are already writing the story of your legacy for you.
The answer to the question
So. Let’s imagine that you are seated in the corner booth with the guy who gave you the talents to begin with.
Notice, I am not painting a grand scene of heaven with a scary, enormous God and pearly gates and angels and a big book with all your errors written on them that you have to explain.
No. Today, heaven is an airport coffee shop, and the person who gave you your talents and your treasure is asking you what you did with them. It’s an intimate conversation, and the person puts you at ease right away, all while maintaining the mystique of someone who knows everything, he is a very very good listener.
I like to imagine that I would play with my hot chai (with whipped cream, thank you very much) for a good long while, not quite sure about where to start.
“Probably not enough,” would be my answer. “I probably could have done more.”
Yeah, if you’ve ever seen Schindler’s List, you understand. Because when it comes down to it, there is always more that we could have done.
But I like to think that my coffee date would redirect the conversation.
“That isn’t what I asked,” he would say. “I want to know what you did with what I gave you.”
And honestly, if I really let myself imagine the situation, a lot of the things that seem so important to me today, the things like my desire to be known and loved, my irritations with my children, my endlessly creative projects that never go anywhere but occupied hours and hours of my life…those things seem quite a bit less important than do now.
“I loved my kids,” would probably be the first thing I would say. “I raised them as well as I could. And I sang, whenever I could. Cause I know you like it when I sing.” It becomes easier the more I think about it, especially as I think about those little threads of sparkle that I had managed to ease out of the jumble of memories.
“I wrote. I wrote like Alexander Hamilton…like I was running out of time. I wrote about big ideas, and sometimes, I even got other people thinking about big ideas, too. I made a point of living frugally, so that our money could be used for more important things. I woke up early to make the most of every day.”
Hmmm… Would this be enough to satisfy my companion? He doesn’t say anything for a while, so I start to get nervous.
“You know what I saw?” he interrupts the silence, to which I go back to playing with my chai.
“No, but I suppose you are going to tell me,” I respond.
“I saw you, when you and the boys were running late that time and you went all the way back home to get your youngest’s teddy bear because he said he needed it.”
“But I was so nasty about it!” I argue.
“But you did it,” he says back. “Every time you put your plan and your schedule on the back burner to help someone else, I saw it. Those moments of invested time are more precious than anything else you might have done.”
Yeah…I’m just imagining this conversation. But even in this imagined conversation, I realize that I am not very good about how I invest my time.
Availability: The Philosopher Princess
You know that I don’t like to give advice. I like to give ideas, thought experiments, homework. But advice is something I like to steer clear of.
But given the direction my little imagined heaven-airport-coffee shop fantasy took me, there is one piece of advice that I am going to give you, right now. I am probably to regret it the moment it comes out of my mouth because if I say it, then I have to hold myself accountable to it.
As a matter of fact, perhaps it’s better that I not give this advice. So…hold on. I’m going to go wake up the Philosopher Princess for a second.
“Put down your telephone!”
All right, well, now that was abrupt. I think what the Philosopher Princess meant is that, were we to consider how we use our time as a critical, precious, sparkling part of our legacy, we would do well to carve out more time when we aren’t plugged, when we aren’t on our telephones, on our tablets, watching television or movies or, even, listening to podcasts.
You see, if the time we spend on our immediate relationships, the ones with people around us, is something truly important, then we need to start acting like it.
The Philosopher Princess actually considers this unplugging and turning our attention to others a virtue, one that she likes to call, “Availability!”
Availability: putting our time and our attention at the disposal of the people we love. Also known as, “put down your phone.”
I’m not saying I have this figured out, obviously. ‘Cause I don’t. But it is something that I have had on my mind for a while…so much so that I made it one of my New Year’s Resolutions… “set aside more unplugged hours of the day.”
Part of our legacy, at the end of our lives, is going to be measured in how we used our time. Let’s make sure, like really, really sure, that we are using our time in a way that builds the life we want to be remembered for.
The Best Legacy
The very best legacy we can leave is to have lived according to the original plan for our lives. Most of us will never leave that legacy.
The second best legacy we can leave is to have decided, one day, whether in the face of crisis, or because we are tired of living life insulated and numb, that we would start investing what we were given, choosing to make this world a better place by giving of who we are and the time, talent and treasure we have.
We can decide at any point to redraw our trajectory. It is never too late to start to do things differently, to invest our time differently. It is never too late to dust off our treasures, to start pulling silvery threads out of the jumble of our past and examining them.
I believe that you are here for a purpose, and no matter how much time you have left, whether it can be counted in hours or in decades, that you can be a hero for the rest of the story.
What do you want your loved ones to say about you when you are, inevitably, one day, going to leave them for that fancy airport coffee shop in the sky? What do you want to be able to say that you did with your treasures?
Every single minute counts towards your legacy. Don’t waste it.
I want to give a great big thank you to Jonathan Moulin and Seven Production in Mulhouse France, for the use of the song La Joie as the intro and outtro to the show. Also to the talented Matt Kugler who sang it and Claude Ekwe who wrote it.
Episode 13: A Sparkling Legacy
Talking Points: Memento Mori; A Legacy of Maxiskirts and Duct-Tape Bowties; How you use your time is your legacy.
The long version of Lily’s airport heaven fanfiction is in podcast Episode 3: On Heaven and Dinosaur Poop.
LiElla Kelly, Death Doula, can be reached via her website, https://leavingwellmt.com or on Instagram: @leaving.well.death.doula. She treats the subject of death with great wisdom and, sometimes even a touch of humor. You would do well to check out her work.
Taken By Trees, Sweet Child O Mine https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6dqVDQ-lF4Q
Our private Facebook group, You Are Not Done Sparkling Yet (https://www.facebook.com/groups/309886354511956) is available to give you a place to get some encouragement and support as you navigate the pursuit of your Ideal Life.
Special thanks to Seven Production in Mulhouse, France for the use of the song La Joie as the intro and outro to the show. Check them out here: https://7prod.fr