“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.