When I turned 40 last month, it occurred to me that the first half of my life could officially be over, which would leave me with only one half left. This was followed by another thought: “What if never win an Oscar?”
I really thought that.
After a long inner eye roll, I pondered that question. Was winning an Oscar that important to me? No, I realized quickly. I just live in a society that tells me that winning an Oscar is a pinnacle achievement that ensures I will be acknowledged, validated, and most importantly, remembered.
So what I was really asking myself was, “What if no one remembers me? Will my life have value?”
It was the classic mid-life primal scream. Many respond to it with a drastic move like a career change, a move to Italy, the purchase of a grotesquely expensive car. But since I like what I do, I just moved to Israel, and cars aren’t my thing, I just let the question lie.
Then my sister-in-law sent me a picture of the last article I’d written for The Jewish Press called “Aliyah Grief.” Someone had texted it to her with a message: “This brought comfort to a friend of mine who’s having a really hard time.”
I wrote that article, really, to process through the emotions I was going through at the time. It was a bonus that this paper chose to publish it, which is why I didn’t think much about it after it went to press. But getting that message was an eye-opener: I had made an impact without even knowing it. In fact, if my sister-in-law hadn’t texted me, I still wouldn’t know it. And this was only one instance. Imagine the countless positive exchanges, the words of kindness, the other articles and book I’ve written – not to mention the little humans I’m raising who take what I’m teaching with them into the world each day. All of those things have some kind of ripple effect, even if I never know about them.
The people I impact may never know about it, either. That’s the thing about being remembered. Aside from Shakespeare and Caesar, most people are forgotten after a few generations. So unless I write the next “Romeo and Juliet” or get stabbed by my best friend on the steps of Congress, it’s likely that 100 years from now no one will know I existed. But that doesn’t mean they won’t be influenced by the things I do today. Something I wrote or said may shift someone’s thinking and cause them to make a change that influences others. My great-great-grandchildren will have something of me in them, even if it’s just my chicken soup recipe (it’s really good). More likely, the stories I tell my kids will live on; they’re the same ones my mother and grandmother told me.
I realized that I will be remembered, first by those closest to me who know me best. They’ll remember the goofy songs I make up, my loud laugh, my talent for accents and making people feel free to be themselves. But even after them, there will also be people who remember me without knowing it, who will be impacted in ways I could never conceive. This means that I am incapable of determining my own value, because I don’t know the bigger picture. I can’t quantify the infinite tiny impacts I will make throughout my lifetime and beyond. Only G-d can. And He’s the one I’m aiming to please, anyway.
At the end of the day, whether I have 40 or 60 or 100 years left, all I can do is try to put a little good out there, like a little girl who blows on a dried dandelion. I will never know how far the wind will carry each tiny petal, or just where it will land, but it’s a pleasure to watch them fly away.