“I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”

This quote by Maya Angelou who died this week aged 86, has made me think about how to live, leaving a legacy and what that entails. I find the term legacy very clinical and legal and see it as generally relating to money or property. I prefer to think of leaving something less tangible; perhaps that is the point, that the best thing we can leave behind is hard to express in words. Arianna Huffington, editor-in-chief of the Huffington Post, expressed it thus in a recent interview about her book,’ Thrive’:

Questioned what she would like to leave to the world, to her daughters she said: ‘Whatever life is, once it’s over, it’s not really about a legacy. You live on in the things that they (her daughters in this case) have internalised. It becomes a part of who they are; that’s what matters.’

Stephen Sutton, who died of cancer two weeks ago aged only 19. wrote a bucketlist of things he wanted to achieve. One of his aims was to raise £10,000 for the Teenage Cancer Trust. This figure has now exceeded £4m, far exceeding his original ambition. His mother today on the day of his funeral encouraged people to ‘Do something that makes you and others happy in Stephen’s memory.’ Stephen himself summed up what you might call his meaning of life thus:

“I don’t see the point in measuring life in terms of time any more. I’d rather measure life in terms of making a difference.”

His bravery in confronting his terminal illness while urging people to make the most of their life he expressed eloquently when he said:

“I have loads of motivation, but little time left to use it. Well, you can’t give me your time to make me live longer, but I can try to give you some of my motivation to enjoy your life, and make a difference.”

I think a lot about the influence he has left behind and a new way of seeing the world, of maximising every moment and living according to your values. The Roman emperor and Stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius said: ‘Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by.’

We have little control of death and do not know how we will be remembered. However, every action has a reaction and how we make people feel when we are alive is the best ‘legacy’ we can leave. Harder to quantify maybe when we are alive than money or mansions but surely longer-lasting and a greater overall contributor to happiness.

Money itself used wisely can achieve a lot as in money raised for charity and the feelings aroused by Stephen’s Story and his passion and positivity until the end continue to induce selfless acts by others, including a man who donated a holiday he won to Las Vegas and freebies to the Teenage Cancer Trust instead of going himself.

“We are endlessly renewed in each other, therefore no one ever dies.” Maya Angelou.


Coming out in a virtual world

The last two years have been an emotional cascade of up and down events and fluctuating moods. A major life event or two that changed irrevocably the way I see and experience the world.

After a long relationship I found myself single again but for the first time with a unique difference. The last time I was single, there were no smartphones, no apps, no digital quick fixes. The way to meet other single guys was in bars, clubs, and cafes (I lament the loss of the legendary First Out café in London, an LGBT melting pot and now an Asian restaurant.)

It was quite a shock to learn the new language of meeting by app (mapping?), and I didn’t even have a smartphone at the time so felt even more hampered.

Learning how to swipe through faces, at the flick of a finger, as many as you like, only to become frustrated at the lack of intelligent conversation or at least chat-up chat was at first a daunting experience. Then thinking sod this and going out to a bar as an alternative and seeing people mostly immersed in their digital worlds was initially very frustrating. It was like coming out all over again – in a virtual world!

I could no longer rely as much as I used to all those years ago on body language, smiles and suspense. It seemed that the anticipation in locking eyes with a stranger across a crowded bar, and the butterflies as you agonise on whether to go up and talk to him, whether to smile – is it too soon, will I seem too keen, had been replaced with perhaps a mere fleeting look and then back to the app – quick, is he on there?!

I’ve been thinking about this issue a lot, and this is random, initial thoughts, but I am fascinated as to how this transition occurred which I was not party to (being lost in a virtually deficient relationship universe) and its subsequent influence on people’s behaviour. People on the gay scene at least no longer seem to go out with an intention to meet or talk to someone although there is more of an emphasis on sociability eg meeting up with friends – which is a good thing, unless you’re not one of them. After all, there’s always someone to fall back on online and that’s available 24/7.

I am not un(h)appy about the growth of technology and the ease with which we can now socialise with people virtually from all over the globe we would mostly otherwise not meet which is amazing. I am interested however in how quickly this digital sexolution (my word for sexual revolution) has occurred and curious as to whether it makes people generally happier and less lonely.

How do you replicate real, interactive in the flesh encounters and do apps make it easier to meet someone in the first place? Are they a distraction or screen behind which to hide one’s true self? Indeed, how much of our real selves do we reveal online without body language, tone of voice or facial expression to go on? Do dating apps make us happier, or just appier?

Now who have I missed? Back to the Grindrstone.

Shades of Green

Happy St Patrick’s Day! And to you I said although it was two days past. My name is Patrick he said and shook my hand, what’s yours? Michael. 

Can I ask you something? I stopped and he shook my hand, I said what is that? Can you get me something to eat? What would you like I asked? He had just been to see the vicar at the local church who sadly had just had a heart attack. That’s awful I said. I know he said, his wife told me – terrible news and what do you say?

That’s a lovely shade of green he said about my jacket, did you know there are 44 shades of green, but that’s the best shade of green I’ve ever seen.
We proceeded to the supermarket and went around while he chose his dinner, it wasn’t just a sausage roll he wanted! Two shepherds pies (two for 1), a baguette a tin of peas later and a pastry, we went to the till and he went to pay in front of a long queue. The assistant let him go first and Patrick beckoned me to go. I said no it’s ok I prefer to wait. I didn’t feel comfortable getting special treatment. So he waited outside while I queued to pay. The whole amount came to less than £10 and I went outside and gave him the bag of goodies. He shook my hand while biting into his pasty and drinking a beer and thanked me ever so much. Do you live around here? Yes I said so I might see you again. You look after yourself I bid and off I went.

I wondered how many times Patrick had been passed that day and about the probability of someone stopping to speak to him. Most of us do just walk on by and label and judge people as beggars rather than individuals with needs. When he stopped me all I did was look right into his eyes when he spoke to me and see the person and our common humanity but how often do I or any of us do that? What is it that makes us stop when we actually do? And even when we do, what makes us stop, stay and listen? Guilt, compassion, inability to say no, or just pure random serendipity? I know it made my evening is what I am sure of and probably Patrick’s too.

But are there only 44 shades of green? I doubt it but I do know that 44 is coincidentally my age so there is at least one for every year of my life.


Squeezing the joy out of life

‘Excuse me’ she said in an accusatory tone, ‘this is invalid.’
‘Why not’ I said, ‘it was given to me only about three minutes ago.’
‘Well, it’s not it has expired, you have to pay.’
‘I’m sorry, why should I pay again if I’ve already paid?’

I boarded a bus on Valentine’s Day evening going home from work, and after boarding I was told the bus was not going to its proposed destination and as a result the bus driver gave me a ticket to use for the next bus so I didn’t have to pay again. It turned out that the bus transfer ticket issued to me was an older ticket issued at 16.24 and valid for only an hour; the time then was around 19.20. I refused to pay on principle and in retrospect perhaps tried too hard to make the driver see reason. It wasn’t the £2.40 bus fare but the principle.

A disagreement ensued. I suggested she contact the bus driver who was not that far ahead of her to validate my story. She refused and turned off the lights on the bus, refusing to move with a bus full of passengers. In the meantime, another driver who had pulled up behind enquired what was going on. When I explained he said well why can’t you pull out of the road so other drivers can get past, she didn’t listen to him either.

A fellow passenger said: ‘Some people just squeeze the joy out of life.’
I said ‘I know and on today of all days.’

A young female passenger intervened shortly after saying to the bus driver: ‘look, you’ve heard the man, sometimes the machine malfunctions, these things happen.’ She insisted on paying the fare and I said I wanted to pay her back she said it was fine and not to worry she just wanted to get home.

Much later that evening, I was on a different bus and two elderly men (who were at least in their late 80s) boarded the bus. I asked them both as did the lady sat next to me if they needed a seat, one of them laughed and said: ‘Oh thanks but no that would make me feel old!’ We both asked them again if they were sure and they were insistent in the most friendly, civil way that they were happy to stand.

Today, exactly two weeks later and on the last day of February, I got off the same Valentine’s Day bus route and recognised the girl who paid my fare getting off with me. I said excuse me and thanked her again for what she did for me. I said I wanted to pay her back and she said ‘no don’t worry, you just take care!’ I said, ‘I will, thanks again anyway and you too!’

Focus on the positive and the person or people who release a slice of joy and compassion into a situation where everything seems to be against you through no fault of your own.

I wondered later why I reacted so defensively when I am usually so calm; I think it was a combination of not being listened to, being judged and ignored. I did make a complaint which was fully investigated and received a goodwill shopping voucher for £10 in acknowledgement of the inconvenience. What did I buy?

‘Mindfulness – a practical guide to finding peace in a frantic world.’ It will take me further than an oyster card.

Christmas Connection

I was meant to go to a free Christmas concert on Wednesday 18 December. I didn’t make it. I decided to do some local Christmas shopping instead. On my way, I was approached by an elderly, slightly dishevelled man sitting at a bus stop. My first instinct in my hurried before the shops close state was: ‘sorry I have no change’ – and I hadn’t. But he beckoned me and I stopped. It turned out he wanted me to buy him a hamburger from a cafe nearby. He was holding a walking stick and possibly a bit inebriated as the woman who found him later suggested although I hadn’t noticed.

After much fumbling around he found £10 which he gave me and entrusted me to buy his hamburger for him. It took a while for the order to arrive and by the time I returned he was opposite the cafe with two women by his side. They were looking after him as he had fallen and hurt himself. One of them knew where he lived (my pre-conceived he is homeless and asking for money assumption was wrong) and was anxiously trying to give directions to the cab driver on her mobile phone while the other woman who say him fall waited with me. He then asked me to I buy him some bananas which he gave me money for. I left him in the capable hands of the woman hailing the cab and wished him well.

I’m glad I stopped and spoke with this affable gentleman and put my busy Christmas shopping schedule on hold to connect with him when everyone else seemed to be passing him by. It costs little to stop, challenge your assumptions and give someone some time and patient attention. Suddenly time stops and Christmas can wait.

Happy Christmas and happy holidays.