Leaving a Legacy

“She speaks with authority because she speaks from the heart.”

I stumbled upon this quote posted on a student’s Facebook page.  Christina is a budding journalist, talented in her own right, who has much to teach me as a writer.  As a freshman in college, she told me that she loved journalism because it gives her the privilege of hearing people’s stories and sharing them with the world.  Today this rising senior is spending the summer at a major metropolitan newspaper, about to make her mark on the world.  I saw the quote while reading a story that she recently wrote about the plight of immigrants in Chicago.  Several times this spring, she recalled a serendipitous meeting with “Jorge” a teenager from Guatemala, who she profiled for her reporting class.  I find her profile stories especially moving, because she always strives to preserve people’s dignity while recounting their ability to overcome great obstacles.  She speaks with authority because she speaks from the heart. 

I don’t know when or why or under what circumstances Christina posted that quote onto her Facebook page.  Perhaps I’m giving myself too much credit for this, but that exact same quote is scribbled onto a pink post-it note stuck to the wall above my desk.  It was a comment from a wonderful mentor during our final performance evaluation conversation at the completion of my internship nearly five years ago.  A few months back, just as I was beginning this project on the Single Life, I remembered his encouraging words and prominently placed them within eyesight of my writing space.  As one of our spring retreat leaders, Christina consequently spent a lot of time in my office.  I suspect that quote made it from my office wall to her Facebook page, but only after it struck a chord in her heart.  

It is not the first time a student has quoted something that they found on my desk, repeated a phrase that I used in a retreat talk, or cited one of our late night conversations.  This week, stumbling upon that Facebook quote takes on a bit more significance.  It is Senior Week at Northwestern, and graduation takes place in less than 3 days.  As we prepare to bid farewell to our graduates, I’m struck by the all too familiar lump in my throat and heavy hearted feeling in my chest. 

Unlike a lot of single women, I will admit that I’ve never had a strong desire to have children of my own.  I may never know the same sense of pride that a parent feels or the kind of hurt and heartache that a parent endures.  However, there are days when I wonder what legacy I will leave behind.  Who or what will carry on when I am gone?

I’m encouraged by several students who have stopped by my office this week to talk.  Each year I lead a service trip to Nicaragua, and one of our students is returning there to volunteer this summer.  Another dropped off a copy of a final paper for which I was interviewed.  Two weeks ago, I watched with pride as students from our confirmation class stood at the altar of Holy Name Cathedral to be sealed with the gifts of the Holy Spirit.  More than a few teary-eyed seniors have stopped by this week to say “thanks” for lessons learned these past four years. 

As I watch another class of students graduate, I am reminded that my presence here makes a difference, and I see the many ways that God has poured forth new life through our time together.  One of the keys to a fulfilling single life is that we take time to identify and celebrate the many ways, with or without children, that we create new life and leave a legacy for those who follow us.

Where is new life coming forth from your work and your place in the world?

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