You made a difference…

Ironically, I’ve heard this quote twice this week – casting very different circumstances on someone’s life (although one was just a movie character).

Clearly, as a species or individuals, I think it’s common to want to look back on our lives and feel like we made a difference.  On a level, I think that’s noble.  But let’s look at ways to accomplish that goal, and what – in the end – really matters (IMHO).

I saw the new Jack Ryan movie this week. [SPOILER ALERT:  skip this paragraph if you want to see the movie…]  The main villain shares with someone during the movie that he feels like his life will have made a difference.  We find out later that  orchestrated a worldwide criminal plot, on behalf of his country and in memory of his son’s life, lost in war as a hero for his country.  Noble cause – to want to have made a difference.  Even noble in wanting to do so on behalf of one’s dead son, or one’s country.   I think we can all agree that it ends there, in terms of nobility.

But his story echoes this common theme:  finding self worth and value in life by making a difference.

The second time I heard this quote came today.  A friend died unexpectedly this week – as of yet, we don’t know the circumstances behind his death.  But, an early co-griever shared these words about our common friend:

You’re someone who cared
You were gentle, sweet, and kind
You made a difference

What an awesome way to be remembered : as caring, gentle, sweet, and kind.  I’d add that he was also authentic and passionate in life.  And he did make a difference.

Now, here’s where you might expect me to highlight a series of accomplishments on the same “scale” or “grandeur” to mirror the movie character’s goals in life. Well, I’m glad to say that’s where I think those three simple sentences are enough…more than enough. While there’s no Nobel Peace Prize, or national publicity on his accomplishments…does that really matter — for any of us?

Mike made a difference in the lives of those around him. He made relationships, telling stories, and celebrating others a priority.  He listened.  He was vulnerable.  He invited trust and showed compassion.  He understood that we are all connected — all living things — and took great pride and joy in that fact.

For me, there’s no better way to be remembered.

At times, with my life experience, I’ve honestly  believed that nobody would come to my funeral — that I would die alone, not having made a difference.  I also found my identity and self-worth primarily in my work — what I did — not who I was, or how I lived out my life.  I’m very grateful that I’m now able to see life so differently — through the powerful witness of others and through my own life experience.

I’m grateful for the lives of friends like Scott, Mike, and Phil who remind me that in the end, what is remembered is how we live, not what we do or what we accomplish.

I’ll  close here with some sacred and inspiring thoughts from a singer and poet I had the fortune of meeting last year at a conference on Asset Based Community Development.  Her words are both comforting and joyful.  Thank you Barbara for your gift…

I Wish That I Could Show You

Lyrics: Based on a quote by Hafiz 

I wish that I could show you
Whenever you are lonely or walking in the dark
The astonishing Light of your Being

When I Die

August 2011
©  Barbara McAfee

When I die I know there’ll be singing
By my friends all gathered around
As their sweet voices fade behind me
I will join with the One Great Sound
And I’ll stand on a sunset hillside
Just like I did in that dream
Join the multitudes there who are singing
The song inside everything

When I die I hope I’m not frightened
But it’s not for me to know
What awaits me there at the threshold
What’s required in letting go
Every time I leave home
Or someone I love
Or a place sweet and holy
Each night as I slip into slumber
I am learning how to die

When I die I’ll fall into a hammock
Woven of each song I’ve ever sung
I have sent them all forward to catch me
On the day that my life is done.
I will slip into that great mystery
As I did in the cool lake at dawn
I will swim those eternal waters
Let the current of love take me home

When I die I know there’ll be singing
By my friends all gathered around
As their sweet voices fade behind me
I will join with the One Great Sound

Link to her latest CD, with these two songs…