What we leave behind us
What we leave behind are the memories we leave with others
A few years ago a friend asked me if he should write a book about his life.
I thought carefully before I replied. He’s a very private person so the idea that he would open his life up this way was shocking to me.
What I said was that this book would possibly be all his great-grandchildren would know about him and was he really at the stage of his life where a book would capture the essence of what he wanted his descendants to know?
I don’t think that was what he wanted to hear and the book was written anyway but it made me think of the legacy that we leave behind us when we’re gone.
Generally we pretend we don’t care about what people say about us. It’s the old ‘sticks and stones’ mentality but as very few of us will have news-worthy lives, the impact of our lives will probably only be remembered by those that knew us and it is through them that we will live on.
“If I know a song of Africa, of the giraffe and the African new moon lying on her back, of the plows in the fields and the sweaty faces of the coffee pickers, does Africa know a song of me? Will the air over the plain quiver with a color that I have had on, or the children invent a game in which my name is, or the full moon throw a shadow over the gravel of the drive that was like me, or will the eagles of the Ngong Hills look out for me?” Isak Dinesen
( Karen Blixen in the 1985 Sydney Pollack movie ‘Out of Africa’ )
The first Lockdown in New Zealand lasted from 26 March through to 27 April 2020.
This time, even for those of us that were working from home, gave us much to focus on and think about.
In my bubble of one, after work finished for the day, I would spend my time either listening to music, reading or thinking.
I thought a lot, mainly about how my family was doing in Wellington and in other cities overseas, how my friends and others were coping around the world, particularly in Italy where the virus had taken a heavy toll on the elderly and what our new world would be like once the virus had done its worst.
I wondered if this is what it felt like during the first and second world wars; that loss of security and of absolute freedom and the fear of the unknown.
I also wondered, despite us ‘going early and going hard’, about how the virus would affect New Zealand, particularly Auckland, its largest city and where I had just moved six weeks before.
And maudlin though it might seem, my thoughts then moved to what mark I would leave if it was my time to go.
What would people say about me?
Would it be like the sentiments on the leaving cards that I had received over the years or different? Would I have regrets and if so, what would they be?
I thought about my former husband’s passing in 2015 and how at his service, every one of my nieces and nephews stood up to celebrate their memories of their uncle.
They recounted things I didn’t remember like how he taught one nephew to play chess and golf or taking his nieces fishing. They said that he was always present in the moment and had time for them, even at a time when kids were seen and not heard.
Adults too remembered him fondly, with my sister, who trained at chef’s school, complimenting his culinary magic in the kitchen and remembering that he was always keen to share the recipes for his concoctions. One of my brothers-in-law, who was a cabinet-maker, commented on the beautiful furniture my ex had made and the Japanese decks he loved to build.
But above all, the common theme that my family recounted over and over again was his positivity, his personal happiness and his kindness.
One of the things I enjoyed about Lockdown was that my neigbourhood became very like the neighbourhood I grew up in.
As we were only allowed to drive to get food or medicine during Lockdown, everyone came out after dinner and walked with their kids and their dogs or dusted off creaky old bicycles and rode those around the block.
Since there was no traffic, we could also walk on the road, which was novel and useful when navigating around another family bubble.
It’s not usual any more for strangers in New Zealand to say hello to each other but that changed during Lock-down.
People shouted hello to others walking down the street and despite the dire situation, there was a lot of laughter.
Kids started chalking pavements outside their houses with messages of support which everyone stopped in their bubbles to admire and comment upon.
It had a 1960’s small-town feel to it and it was nice.
There was no traffic noise either so the bird song was more noticeable in the mornings and evenings, the sky was clearer and everything was just so much simpler.
But above everything else in our new world, what I remember most is that everyone was uber kind to each other.
Our Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, would finish off the 1pm daily lockdown briefing by reminding us to ‘be kind’.
‘Be kind’ started popping up everywhere from tv adverts to appearing on posters outside the supermarket.
And everyone got bitten by the kindness bug.
Things are almost back to normal now here in New Zealand.
There is no social distancing, people rarely wear masks and the only lingering impact is contact tracing when we enter stores.
The “be kind’ posters have disappeared, the traffic is back, you can’t walk on the road anymore, no-one is out walking with their kids and their dogs in the evening and in the morning, the sound of the birds is almost drowned out by the distant roar of the traffic on SH1.
Despite that, I think there were lessons to be learned and for myself, I see this time as the perfect time to make the changes in my life that I thought about during Lockdown.
Of course prior to Lockdown I had planned to make changes anyway because I had moved to a new city but now the changes I want to make are more about how I live my life rather than what I do with my life. It’s more about leaving a better social impact than having a more social life.
And I’m starting with the easy one, ‘Be Kind’.