Last Thursday was the eighth anniversary (Yartzeit) of my grandmother's death, a woman who very much impacted my life and with whom I was quite close growing up. My mother (her eldest daughter) had suggested that we children and grandchildren do something "meaningful" to mark the day, to honor her memory.
Not coincidentally, the Universe gave me a slow Chiropractic work day, and I was able to look through letters and journal entries from the time immediately before and after her death, which in turn gave me a burst of almost overwhelming creative energy, which I used to channel into photography and creative writing.
The day of her funeral, eight years ago, I wrote the following in my journal:
"There is a whole life in this house, from large details like her car to small details like her basement office organization, her color coordinated towels, her books. How does one dismantle a life? How does one distribute and incorporate it? Everyone keeps saying that her legacy is us, her grandchildren, we are the proof that she did something worthwhile, that each of us carries her within us. Why can't she be here to see it, I feel like everyone has a time, and this was not hers.
What will people say about me when I die? What will be my legacy?"
In speaking to a friend today, a woman aware of my issues at being single and childless in my late 30's, she challenged me with that exact question: What is my legacy? Can I say that I am an inherently worthwhile and important person, regardless of the standards imposed by society or by my family? Why do I exist?
For now, I have a sufficiently unconvincing answer, with the only fact on the ground being that I EXIST. I would even venture to say that I exist for a reason, and that I have faith that the Universe and its Higher Powers generally knows what it is doing. But I cannot answer the "Why," and it terrifies me, because I am afraid that if I explore these answers and possibilities, I will not like what I find. Perhaps it will come to me in a dream.
I do, however, have an opinion on the subject, and it starts with the classic philosophical question, if a tree falls in the middle of the woods and no one is there to hear it, does it make a sound? And actually, my answer to that is a definitive NO; hearing, like the other five senses humanity has been programmed with as part of their genetic package, is dependent upon relative perception. While the sound and the loss of a tree in the middle of a random forest will most definitely impact the Greater Universe - in keeping with the principles of Chaos Theory - if it has not been perceived by another, it gets lost.
To apply that theory on a micro level, I assert that I am in fact a worthwhile person, deserving of love and being in a loving relationship, and I assert that I value my own company. Ultimately, I wonder if I count, if I leave no trail behind me when I die, genetic or otherwise; if there was never one person in my life who loved me unconditionally, who wanted to be my husband and raise a child with me not out of obligation, but out of eagerness and interest and a desire to grow old with me. Surely, the heavens will cry when I leave this Earth, and somewhere in the cosmos there will be a ripple, but will any human miss me or remember me?
As a child, fame and global recognition represented my idea of meaning and legacy in life, I would not be considered a success until I had been featured on the front page of the New York Times for saving humanity, or until at least one of my works of art was hanging in the Metropolitan Museum. That template has dramatically shifted, I do not need nor want to save the world. Right now I want and need intimacy, physical and emotional, the knowledge that for at least one person on this planet, I am their first and most precious priority. You can argue that it means that I don't love myself 100%, or that I err in using an external measure of my worth, but I am human living in a society of other humans. Robinson Caruso had it much easier.
I don't know how to express or explain that feeling of total acceptance, except to say that I received that affirmation from my grandmother, and that is a large part of the reason why I miss her.
I close with a Celtic sonnet that someone read to my family when they visited the shiva house, eight years ago, and I dedicate this poem to my grandmother, and to myself, that I may have a long, fulfilling and happy life, and will have left it a better place for my being there.
Nor speak of me with tears
But laugh and talk of me
As though I were beside you.
I loved you so
"Twas Heaven here with you.