One Person, Many Ripples

I’d reached that point in life where you wonder what impact you’ve had on the world, what legacy you are leaving behind, how will people remember you? How many people would actually miss you? Those questions were haunting me as the years came staring at me.

I’d just signed up with Facebook and was looking for my people. Us children of the sixties and seventies just missed the computer generation by one and our friends aren’t as readily online as most today. So I had to look far and wide to find just a few, sometimes finding the children of my friends, but not my friends.

One such child was now in his twenties and we became buddies. I’d not had much contact with him in life and could count how many times I’d actually seen him in person, but now we were Facebook buddies and one night he popped in to chat.

This young man poured his heart out to me. He was frustrated with his father and they weren’t getting along. His father had been my long time friend and I knew him well. I fully understood the agonies his son was sharing.

But then came the big surprise. He told me that I was like a second mother to him, that he loved and respected me immensely, and that he’d chosen his career due to me. I’d barely spent time with this young man and here he was telling me some of his happiest teenage days were spent with me. I was floored. How could I have had such an impact? I barely knew this young man.

He was 14 when I first met him. I was renovating my house singlehanded, just little old me painting, doing carpentry, drywall, countertops, replacing windowpanes and such things. I was just a simple gal who couldn’t afford to pay the big dudes to do it so I bought how-to books and dove in.

His father wanted him to learn responsibility and hard work and sent him to help me. I felt bad. I didn’t know this boy and here his father was making him help me. So we painted and played at remodeling, neither of us knowing much of what we were doing.

I’m a big computer geek and spent many hours designing shareware games and selling them on the internet. I showed him the games and my programming books and shared my enthusiasm with him. He played with the dog and took her for walks. They didn’t have any pets at home.

He spent a handful of days one summer with me. After that, his family and I drifted apart. I probably didn’t see him five times from then until I found him on Facebook ten years later.

His heart came pouring out and he told me those were some of the happiest days of his teenage years, the days he’d spent helping me. He told me he’d chosen his career path in computers after experiencing my enthusiasm and went on to work for a major company.

And more surprising, he said I was able to find the good in everybody and he was still trying to learn that one. I think of myself as being pretty cynical, not open arms to the world. All I could do as he typed these words was cry. How could I have made such an impact? Was it really possible that I’d touched one person this profoundly? I was in awe.

I left the chat with a new view of the world and our impact on it. How many people, I wondered, had made such an impact and never knew it? A few days later I found another person I knew, someone I’d worked with for a few weeks. His father owned half the company I worked for and he came to work with us one summer. He was one of the few people I’ve worked with over the years who really impressed me with his work ethic, intelligence and willingness.

So remembering how the first young man had shared his impression of me, I shared my impression with this second young man. I told him what I thought of him during the time we worked together. Those days were 20+ years ago so no doubt this man was as surprised to hear my remembrances as I was to hear the other. I thought of it as paying it forward.

We all have times in our lives that we wonder how we’ve impacted people, what mark we’ve left on the world, what our purpose is and will we ever fulfill it. Everyone has doubts and sooner or later, we feel our mortality and it scares us.

If you do nothing else in this world, pick one person who has made a difference in your life, one person who you remember with the highest regards, someone who wouldn’t expect it, and share your remembrances with them. Leave that legacy for them to take away. Trust me, you’ll feel really good about it 🙂

If you’ve read Yankee, Go Home, you’ll recognize the story of this young man, though it’s attributed to a different character. Yankee, Go Home is a mostly true tale of a Yankee in the South, with changes made to protect identities. Boys are girls, and girls are merged with other girls, to ensure everyone’s privacy. Only one chapter is pure fiction, and you’d never guess which one. All the rest are based on facts.

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