Autumn Years and Leaving a Legacy

A couple of weeks ago, I reluctantly put aside my short-sleeved shirts and comfortable shorts. It had taken me a while to accept that the dog-days of summer were finally over. This morning I wore a sweatshirt, jacket, and long pants to go jogging. The air was crisp and the autumn leaves on every street were vivid.

My ‘forever young’ years—the summer years of my life—have come to an end. I enjoyed those years and had a hard time letting go at first. But now I’m experiencing a third season of living – one that brings new clarity into my life.

Leaving a Legacy

Adult development literature reveals that as adults get older, it is more common to think about how we’re going to make a difference or leave a legacy of some sort. I am spending more energy on the things that matter most to me such as thinking about areas where I can possibly make a positive difference in the world while I’m here.

When I was in my early fifties, I started seeking ways to make sure the hours I spent engaged in work each day mattered beyond just a paycheck. Because it suited my background and interests, I chose to seek a position teaching speech communication at a community college. As long as I felt that I could make a difference and I could connect with my students in meaningful ways, I knew I was where I belonged.

As I have continued to interview others for our newsletter each month, I have discovered that each person I’ve interviewed has found meaningful ways that they can make a difference in the lives around them. For some, that has meant volunteering. For others, making a difference has involved some sort of creative work—writing, art, or something else that lifts and moves people in new ways.

Small Acts Matter

As a retired person, I am keenly aware that my life has an expiration date—one that I didn’t think about much at all when I was fifty. I don’t have grand, lofty ideas about making some huge difference in the world. However, I do feel passionate about advocating for positive aging in ways that could help others live their best lives. That is something small I can do.

Sometimes the small things I can do are ones that I don’t even recognize as important.  If one neighborhood child remembers that I asked them how they were doing or encouraged them in some way, then I have done something that matters.

If I take time now to create memories for my family and grandchildren, then I have done something that matters. Someday my grandchildren will remember that I was full of life and laughter. That’s part of the legacy I want to leave the people I love. Even though I don’t think I’m anywhere near the end of my life, I think quite a bit about the legacy I want to leave.

Sometimes when I’m cleaning out a closet or a drawer, I stop and think about what others might find if I should suddenly pass. I want things to be orderly for those who follow me – that’s part of how I hope I’ll be remembered.

I expect to live into my nineties—I don’t plan to go anywhere for quite a while. But none of us has any guarantee for another tomorrow. At this point in my life, I want my days and years to count in new ways. What about you?

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