“If you want to accomplish something great, think beyond your lifetime”
Walt Disney said this, and it’s resounded in my head a dozen times over the last few days. When its chant began, I couldn’t help but think of my pastor who is always telling us that what matters is the legacy we leave to our children’s children. He’s told stories about his great grandmother and how they passed certain traits to his parents that has since blessed or enriched his life. He’s reminded us that the legacy can be good or bad: alcoholism or violence can also be a legacy. Before I take a detour down a beaten path I don’t feel emotionally capable of exploring again right now, let me refocus on Disney’s quote.
We all want to accomplish something great. The definition of what that something is differs for each of us but my guess is that all of us expect to see the fruits of our labor. We work hard at jobs or at parenting or at whatever it is we devote our time to so that we can look back and see that we’ve been the cause of something worthwhile, something important, something great. We enslave ourselves to time. The other morning, I had a migraine from a very fiery place. I don’t really sleep. I doze sometimes but the dozing don’t last as long as it should. When I finally put both feet on the floor and tried to stop the earth from spinning, my eyes saw the clock. Nine, it read. Oops, I usually have breakfast ready for the girls by 8:45. I was fifteen minutes late. That just about undid me. Had the girls not been there with me, had I not known that it really causes them issues to see me cry, I would have broken down right there. Simply because breakfast was going to be “late.” There is no such thing as an insignificant minute in my world. In my world, every minute is a minute that I’m using to add a brick of confidence and love to the girls’ foundation or to knock such a brick off their existing wall of strength. My ultimate purpose is to get them safely and happily from here to adulthood. That’s it. Beyond that, I really don’t care.
Or do I?
That thought provokes another question in my head: what is love?
William Butler Yeats once penned, “I have spread my dreams beneath your feet / Tread lightly because you tread on my dreams” and those two lines pretty much sum up the meaning of love in my book. Love is about trusting and opening yourself up in ways that you wouldn’t if anyone else asked. It’s about spreading down your heart, and allowing someone to see you rather than the mask that you find more comfortable to share. But, if it’s real, the recipient of the love will tread lightly, knowing that your dreams are in his or her hands. I try very hard to show the girls I love them and care about their happiness – but that love is returned. My oldest daughter wrote me the world’s sweetest poem all by herself. My youngest daughter regularly asks me to cuddle with her: should I cry, they instantly cry with me. Sure, I can give them memories, but what if I could do something else for them, something that would be more tangible for them when they got older, something they could use? Immediately, I think of money: savings accounts, college, etc. But money doesn’t have much to do with dreams or with strengthening the emotional bonds you have with those you love. For a long time, I did not believe I would live to see them into adulthood. I mean, at one time in my life, I wrote out wills, sad and short that they might have been. I know what songs I want played at my funeral. Death is something I’m not afraid of, indeed have sort of expected for years. That fear prompted me to begin writing letters to them. I write at least once a month to each of them, and have since they were born. They each have a ton of letters from me. Ideally, I’ll give the letters to them when they are old enough to read and appreciate them—maybe at their high school graduation, maybe at their college graduations, maybe at their weddings, maybe the first time some banana boy breaks their hearts. I don’t know when the time will be right. But my hope is that they will read the letters and remember that I love them and that I care about them and that they are my jewels. That is the greatest accomplishment I can think of: to have my children know they are loved and supported and adored. It pray that it will, in turn, teach them how to love the people who come into their lives, and how to treasure them and never take them for granted.
That’s all very lofty thinking of me, isn’t it?
The truth, though, is that sometimes it is really hard for me to see past the end of the day. When nighttime comes, sometimes it’s hard for me to say, “Oh, I’ll do it tomorrow”. I’ll see the books of letters lying there, waiting for me to write to the girls again, and I’ll put it off. Sometimes all I really want is a hot, hot bath and a towel that’s been heated in the dryer afterward. Thinking fifty years in advance all the time is exhausting. Preparing for something that I’m never going to see all the time is exhausting. Sometimes when my daughter say, “Can you play Animal Hospital with me right now?” while the other one simultaneously says, “Can you read me Blues Clues again?” I think to myself, “Not right now, I’ve got to get dinner started.” The other day this exact scenario happened, and I explained that I’d play “in a minute.” Then I looked at my daughter and I suddenly remembered that making time to play is more important than dinner. So we sat down on the floor and played. They laughed. They smiled. They relaxed. And they might remember that I chose to play rather than do inconsequential things none of us will care about later. I wish I always remembered.
This is going to sound harsh but the truth is I think brainwashing occurs through monotony. If you hear the same thing ten thousand times, by the ten thousand and one time, you’re going to start thinking, “Hm, it does kind of make sense.” By ten thousand and twenty, you believe it as if it were your own original thought. The world can brainwash us into thinking that grown up errands are more important than thirty minutes of playtime. But playtime is what teaches our children lessons that they will incorporate into their own family lives, and so when we neglect play time, we neglect our children. I know all about child psychology. I know that children need time to play by themselves to gain independence, to work out their problems, to develop critical social skills — I know it all. But I think they need us to play with them more than they need their friends to play with them. It’s a matter of accomplishing something that’s greater than our lifetime.
One day, I will die. As a writer, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t hope that someone will have read something I wrote and been blessed because of it. As a partner, a sister, a daughter, I hope all the people I love will be able to think of something specific I helped them do or become. As a child advocate, teacher and mentor, I hope that some child somewhere was encouraged and felt special because of me. But, most of all, I hope that my girls will teach their children that God is real, people are important and that each of them were and are deeply loved because these are lessons that they will hand down to their children and their children will hand to their children, leaving a legacy of strength, confidence and emotional well-being for our family.
My first grade Prims just began a unit on the Women in the Bible. We learned that Deborah was brave and that each of them has the ability to be as brave as she was. Our church’s former worship leader recently made a Facebook status update that said, “just in case you forgot, you are capable of hearing from God yourself.” Living in the moment, living day to day, it is easy to forget that because we allow ourselves to get wrapped up in time and what we’re expected to do by day’s end. How often have I thought, “only special pastors REALLY hear God” or thought “well of COURSE he’d know how to write that hymn: God talks to him.” How often have I been amazed at the complex and advanced spiritual lessons my seven year old daughter totally grasps and realized, “God actually TALKS to that child.” It’s true – He does. But the Bible says He talks to me too. I can be brave like Deborah, too, and wise like Solomon because I am a child of God too.
Walt Disney believed in himself. He believed in himself enough to try hard and work hard and expect “something wonderful.” He loved what he did. I love my girls. In order to accomplish something truly great for them, then, I need to throw the chains of this world away, to look ahead past monetary needs to the emotional well being of my future great-grandchildren and ask myself how I can touch them. We devote “days” to all sorts of things, even a day just to fool and play pranks on other people: why couldn’t we all devote a day to living without regard to time—even if that meant hiding our clocks, stuffing our watches—so that we might be able to see what our loved ones actually need from us? My guess is that their real need wouldn’t be money. I mean, battered women may need money for a home but before they are capable of holding a job, they have to have someone help them believe in themselves first.
God made us all. Every single one of us. And since He doesn’t make accidents, there must have been a unique purpose for every single of us. It’s easy to think smaller than “beyond our lifetime” because we’re human. It’s easy to live paycheck to paycheck. But, in the end, when I’m on my deathbed, am I really going to care about a job, or am I going to be thinking about what kind of women I raised my girls to be, and what kind of women they’re going to raise their girls to be? I don’t know about you, but that thought is enough to make me not care one iota if any item on my “to do” list is met today: who cares if dinner isn’t ready, so sorry if I don’t clean one room in the house. I have greater things to attend to.