I’ve been thinking on this topic throughout today. It’s been difficult to come up with something, not because I’m afraid of bearing my soul, but because there aren’t really any tangible things I fear, like spiders or flying or in-laws. The closest thing I have to that is my strong distaste for sunflowers, which probably borders into the irrational fear category, but that’s another blog post for another day.
By and large, though, I suppose the best way to articulate my biggest fear is that I am afraid of living a mediocre life. I touched on this somewhat in the “Yeah, But …” page of this blog, but I’ll go deeper here.
To me, a successful life is one that touches multitudes of lives, both in that person’s lifetime and beyond. When I read my grandpa’s letters to his parents during World War II, or my great-grandma’s diary, I feel a meaningful connection to these people I’ve never met. I suppose that’s one reason I love researching my genealogy: by shaping together my ancestors’ lives, I get to know them. Sometimes in tiny fragments and puzzle pieces; sometimes through the testimony of others who knew them.
In Swahili, the dead are divided into two time-oriented categories. Sasha spirits are those who were known firsthand by people still living. They, in a sense, live on through the memories of the living. When the last living person who knew the deceased dies, the Sasha moves into a new realm, that of the Zamani.
I really love this metaphor, a sort of pay-it-forward for memory. So long as you touch a life, you’ll be remembered for as long as that person lives. And, if you play your cards right, your life can improve other lives for centuries down the line, even after the last person you knew dies. After some years have passed, it’s probable the person you impact will be impacted indirectly, and might not even know your name. But it’s what you’ll leave behind that matters. A letter. A painting. A musical composition. A pocket watch. A scientific discovery. Hundreds of inspired students. An agricultural breakthrough. A solution to poverty. To me, any of these things is the hallmark of an extraordinary life.