In the history of the universe, or at least the galaxy as we perceive it, we’re molecules hurtling in and then out of life in a blink. Sure we’re a big part of the world to family, friends and others we interact with. But on a planet of over 7 billion, only a relative handful remain internationally renown for centuries, and that takes into consideration cave paintings and Gutenberg’s press, which allowed us to communicate fame and infamy in the modern world.
No immediate family remain who were the center of my universe when I began my journey. Thankfully there’s extended family I rely on. Still, I work hard to keep my original family alive in my heart and memory because they continue impacting my life. I wish the family I created could know the ones responsible for me. Maybe because of the Depression and World War II, my grandparents and parents seized their days so meaningfully. They’re often called the Greatest Generation, and the title is well-earned from my perspective. Acutely aware of the past, they nonetheless lived and reveled in the moment. I remember them partying, dancing and celebrating with gusto while working hard to create a better world for those they brought into it.
What strikes me more as the years pass was their selflessness. I learned of incredible sacrifices they made, rarely through their admission but from others. I’m talking about single decisions that were daily life-altering acts of kindness and compassion done because they were the right thing to do, no matter the hardships or lifelong consequences. I’m not talking about the courageous men and women who defend our country every day, rather regular people like my mom and grandmother who lived together in a studio apartment during The War. For as long as I remember, they each recalled what sound like desperate days as some of the greatest of their lives. My grandma remembered food lines. My mom, graduating high school and losing all the boys to the war. But their stories were of perseverance and making the most out of horrible situations. It wasn’t sacrifice then; it was life.
That doesn’t seem as commonplace today. We weigh decisions that might impact our life more heavily. Many seem to have surrendered the greater good for their own. Look no further than our country’s political dysfunction. Locally and globally, think about the hardships of the masses, be it economic or health-related, and the apathy and even open hostility toward those suffering. There’s famine, genocide, disease, environmental chaos—all sorts of atrocities happening among the 7 billion around the globe, and it feels like finger-pointing and victim-blaming trump humanity. The bigotry, racism, entitlement, insensitivity and downright viciousness that flood news cycles leaves me sad and disappointed.
My point? We are just passing through, and I think we should find out why and pursue it with the same zeal as my parents and so many of the Greatest Generation. Our passions and making the most of what we have are the greatest motivators. Following them make us better friends, parents, colleagues. They make us better human beings because we’re happier doing what we love. More important―call me naive―I believe we’re happier when we’re doing the right thing. It’s easy to be a cynic, complain, pass judgment on others as if we’re the standard to which others should hope to become. Despite what we may believe, we’re not going to remain top-of-mind to others very long. Gutenberg, Edison, and other inspirational, religious, political and humanitarian icons are the exceptions.
It’s rare to leave a lasting mark on the world once we’ve passed through, and even harder when those who remember us join us wherever we end up when we complete this life. Maybe we can’t change the world, but we can make our small piece of it safer, kinder and even happier by appreciating what we have and the uniqueness of those around us. What’s to lose by giving it a shot?