The Story You Leave Behind

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A few months ago, I finally picked up the book A Fault in Our Stars and proceeded to devour each and every word written within this amazing story. Now, I realize this book and the movie that quickly followed were widely popular some years ago, however I tend to fall in love with things long after the world already has. That is how it always has been and how it will likely always be for me. As I read each page, often through bleary, tear-filled eyes, so much about the story struck me as being special and memorable- everything from the witty conversations between Augustus Waters and Hazel Grace, to the various forms of love shared amongst each character, to the depth of grief and loss that rips your own heart open. But what I’ve returned to again and again long after reading the last word on that final page, is Augustus’s deep need and obsession in creating a life that mattered in such a way that he’d never be forgotten- even long after he took his last breath.

At 18, I too was very much like Augustus. I set out into the world with the intention to leave my mark- to be remembered by the masses. I had the secret suspicion that I was special. Most of us believe just that and become obsessed with ensuring we have a story worth telling. But what I’ve come to realize with time and wisdom, is everything we do matters- everything we put out into the world will leave a mark. It may not be in the grand way my 18 year-old self and Augustus had hoped for- where we are adored by the masses, but it matters to each person we have the opportunity to encounter in this lifetime.

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Everyday we are granted with the ability to walk on this earth, we share our lives, and pieces of ourselves with other people. Some of those people are in our lives for a mere moment- a stranger that we pass by while walking into the grocery store. But others will walk side by side with us for longer periods of time, as we share much of ourselves and our lives with them. To these people, what we do and what we share matters. Even with that stranger you have the ability to extend kindness through a smile or by holding the door just for a moment. That person may not remember what you look like or ever learn your name, but they will never forget how your simple act of kindness made them feel. And to those that spend greater periods of time alongside you, as you navigate this crazy ride of life, you will leave a much greater mark- greater than you could’ve ever imagined.

When my sweet Oma, my paternal grandmother left this world 8 years ago, she wasn’t widely loved but she was deeply loved by every person that had the opportunity to meet her. The loss I experienced when she passed still reverberates through me, and to this day I can feel the softness of her hands within my own. Pieces of her nurturing heart remain within mine, and every time I pull out my apron or preheat my oven, I can feel her beside me, watching over me, encouraging me to use my hands to create art through food. I still hear her voice saying, “Goodnight, my princess,” and the touch of her lips kissing my forehead as she tucked my sister and I into bed during our visits to see her and my Opa. When she passed, her obituary didn’t appear in the New York Times, but her story mattered to me. Her actions and her words left a mark on my heart that will never be forgotten.

Like Hazel Grace, most of us will walk lightly on this earth but will leave an imprint nonetheless. Therefore, when you are given the opportunity, be sure to share loving words and an extra kiss with your partner. Hold your small child in your lap a bit longer, even if the dishes need to be done and the laundry needs to be folded. And for those of you with older children, never let them leave without an, “I love you,” and embarrassing them with a hug. If you are able to, hold your grandparent’s hand in your own, feeling the wisdom held within the warmth of their skin. To that stranger, extend a smile or a small act of kindness. Many of your words will be remembered, so choose them wisely. Choose to be present and choose to be kind, because that is what will be remembered- that is the legacy you can leave behind.