Tonight the kids and I went to a celebration at the library in honor of a retiring librarian and her devoted volunteer husband.
It had been another hectic afternoon. My daughter fought me because she wanted to put on her Elsa and Anna PJs and go back to school for pajama night at the Scholastic book fair, so I compromised, and told her she could go to the library in her PJs. (Of course, she immediately decided she wanted to wear her completely impractical red feetie pajamas instead, in the rain, without shoes on, but that's immaterial.) My son needed to re-write his homework, and complete the homework he didn't complete the night before (because he forgot to turn the page over, after his teacher had told him to do so). Despite the chaos, I managed to get the kids out the door again into the rain, brownies and apple tart in hand, just as the party was supposed to begin.
From their perspective, it was probably another boring adult party, with the slight added interest of snacks and lemonade. But even if it didn't sink in right away, I wanted them to see everyone there to honor someone who had so generously given his time to the community; I wanted them to see that love matters, to see what a legacy looks like.
It's unusual, I think, to hear what people have to say about your legacy while you're still alive. In the days and weeks after my father died, everyone I met said something to me about his contributions to our church and his community, his talent for landscaping and for creating art with living things, his humor, his creativity. I suspect that while people thanked him every day, he never got to experience the kind of appreciation that I saw last night: the town clerk and a representative from the planning board was there to honor B's formal contributions to civic life; the historical society talked about his countless volunteer hours doing all sorts of projects (including building a scale replica of the town's oldest house); the director of the library talked about how B's mark was quite literally all over the building, how he'd fixed all sorts of little brackets and widgets, and how when there wasn't a part available, he'd make one. Some people talked about how his mark was all over town--he walked its perimeter twice daily, never hesitating to stop and pick up a tool to help someone plant something, or to shovel snow somwhere half way through his walk. Some people mentioned the "little libraries" he'd built, which stand in three places in town now, honoring other people's contributions. They expressed their gratitude to the librarian for bringing the media library to life, organizing it despite her own disinterest in the content, so other people could use it.
There were token gifts: a canvas library tote bag (also a project catalyzed by the couple), a few plaques, a resolution passed by the town Council (our equivalent, I guess, to the keys to the city).
On the way home, I asked my son what he thought. I asked him if he knew that B. did all of those things, and that his wife had made such an important contribution to our community, too. He said that he could tell that people really liked B. and his wife, and that they were going to be sorry to lose them. I agreed, and said that we were lucky that B. cared so much about other people, and was willing to help out, without any thought about what was in it for him.
My son asked me what I would have said about B. if they'd asked me to make a speech. I thought a minute, and told him that I'd mention his walks around town, his eagerness to stop and make a difference, his wry sense of humor, and his keen appreciation for what really matters.
My kids have both known B. and his wife since they were toddlers, have seen him walking around town, seen him pitch in at various houses on our street, have helped me to maintain the Little Library near our house by keeping it stocked with books for people to take home. I hope that when they're faced with decisions about the legacies that they will leave, maybe they'll remember B. and his wife, and know that sometimes the little contributions are just as important as the ones that make the news.
What do you think people would say about you after you're gone? What do you hope they would say? Are the answers to those two questions the same?