building a legacyHenry Ward Beecher once said, “We sleep, but the loom of life never stops.”  I interpret that to mean that once we’ve reached our “eternal sleep,” the patchwork that is life continues on. While I sincerely hope my time to meet that big “bakery in the sky” is a long way off, I do wonder about the patchwork that will go on after me, and how much of what I’ve created will be valued and embellished upon.

The building across the way from mine is called “Watermark.” We are near the Charles River, so the name seems apropos. According to the dictionary, a watermark is a line indicating the height to which water had once risen.  The mark has obviously been left behind by something that is no longer there. It’s as simple as a wavy, salty line on a stone wall that can be washed off with a damp cloth or something a little more permanent as a scratch that’s been etched into a piece of glass.

My dog Dashiell and I pass the building’s sign each day and it has inspired me to think about my own watermarks–the things of myself that I’ve left behind and will leave behind. Not the concrete things like the furniture, books, and paintings that are sitting in a storage vault in California, but the impressions I’ve left/etched on people I’ve encountered through the years.

I like to think that the biggest impact I’ve had, and the most indelible,  has been on my children. I know that my younger son’s dry sense of humor has been honed by my own. And the fluidity with which my older son can speak at length with anyone probably has a lot to do with me as well. Those are some of the good things they’ve inherited, but there are also some  genetic traits that I see in them that make me cringe.  (I won’t bore you with those.) To me, these are all watermarks, and while I have little control over the genetic ones, I hope the ones that were influenced by my behavior are positive.

I ask myself, “Have all my philanthropic and charitable pursuits left their marks on these guys? Have I done enough to impress upon them that we are only guests on this earth, that our job is one of service?” Did I tell them enough that if they love what they’re doing, they will be successful?

I kick myself, in retrospect,  for not taking advantage of enough “teaching moments” during my boys’ growing years. Those moments that occur when you least expect them, when a life lesson can be snuck into a conversation like peas into mashed potatoes–while you’re driving them to baseball practice or when they’re sitting at the kitchen table having an after-school snack. Those times are fueled by serendipity, and we should grab hold of them and use them when they take place since children often don’t take kindly to the more planned “life lesson lessons.”

What of my friends? I’ve lived in quite a few different places throughout my life, and I have made many friends and acquaintances along the way.  I’d like to think I’ve had an impact on my friends–and when they think of me I hope it conjures up memories of lunches and brunches, and dinners. And long chats–and lots of laughing.

And what of those strangers I’ve met along the way? Those with whom I’ve had random, casual connections–the teller at the bank, the cashier at the market. Everyone has had conversations with strangers, and it’s pretty amazing how just a knowing nod or an affirmation of someone’s aches and pains can change their day, and sometimes change their lives. Have I done that?

I know there have been times when I turned to someone at the market and made a joke about liking what was in their cart better than what was in mine. And I can remember times when I struck up a conversation with people in the elevator as they headed out to work, or on the corner as we waited for the light to change. Did these random interactions make their day? I can’t say, but I hope I left a small watermark on their psyches.

It seems to me that unless we are honored at a big fundraising event, at the Academy Awards or at a retirement party, most of us will not know about the watermarks we have left behind. Indeed, by the time the platitudes and accolades will (hopefully) be bestowed upon us at our funerals, it will be too late. But that’s okay with me. I try to lead by example, and the fact that I have a wonderful family, two kind sons who make me proud everyday, and wonderful friends in all corners of the world tells me that when the time comes my watermarks will not be washed away. I hope I will not feel as though I have been sleepwalking through life when the time for real sleep comes.

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