About a month ago, I asked my students what they want their legacy to be. They responded by staring at me, tempted to say, “I don’t get it,” but knowing that would unleash a speech about claiming ignorance.
So, I explained a little further: People ask you what you want to BE all the time. I want to know what you want to DO. When your life is over, what will people say you did? How will people know that you were on this Earth?
My responses of “good” and “excellent” to their answers were so far from appropriate that I am embarrassed.
I never wanted to BE a teacher. I just wanted to DO something that mattered.
I ended up in some 24-hour urgent care pharmacy last Saturday night. The pharmacist took my USC Credit Union ATM card and asked when I graduated. I responded, and he asked me what I do now.
“I’m a teacher,” I said, pale-faced, somewhat wriggling in pain and desperately wanting my prescription.
“Why would you waste a USC education on becoming a teacher?”
It didn’t make me mad at all. But it did make me think. Why would I use a stupidly expensive education to teach? And to struggle financially on top of it.
Yesterday, I sat with my students in a circle just to talk to them. It was a welcome break from my “we-never-take-breaks-in-my-class” philosophy. I listened to them. I laughed. I sat quietly.
I’ve known this for a while, but I realized in that circle that each of these young women carries a tiny, minuscule part of my soul within their own. And I carry a tiny, minuscule part of theirs within mine.
I listened to “Valleys of Neptune,” the Jimi Hendrix album released some 30 years after his death. As I was listening, I thought to myself how awesome it is to live forever. Not physically because who would really want that. But your sound, your soul exists in the world forever. There’s a small portion of the human population who carries your soul within your own and passes that along to other people.
Following yesterday’s conversation, I realized through “Valleys of Neptune” that I’m going to live forever.
In the six years since I’ve left college, I’ve interacted with, taught, cried with, laughed, become a part of over 1,000 young people. They have filled my heart and my soul in immeasurable ways. I don’t think I’m great. I never have. I simply do what I do, and I fall in love along the way.
It’s the falling in love that makes me think I do an okay job.
And it’s the falling in love that made me realize I am an incredibly lucky person to have been able to watch my legacy unfold.