By Kate Sarosy
AARP Wyoming President
My mother died 12 years ago this May. While she is often in my thoughts throughout the year, as her anniversary approaches I am especially grateful for her legacy to me.
Legacy is ordinarily understood as the distribution of property to heirs. As I age, however, I am thinking of legacy in broader terms – as the impact others have had on my life and the impact my life is having on the lives of others. I remember my mother’s sense of humor; her love of reading, learning and adventure; the depth of her spiritual life; and her acceptance of the reality of aging and impending death. Those qualities are her gifts to me and part of who I am and/or aspire to be.
To quote Ralph Waldo Emerson, “The greatest gift is a portion of thyself.” How are our lives enriching others?
One of my favorite authors on aging, Joan Chittister, in her book “The Gift of Years,” describes many aspects of one’s legacy including our attitude toward the world. Did we inspire a love for life? Will we be remembered for our smiles, our frowns, our laughter, our complaints, our kindness, our selfishness? How did we treat strangers? How did we love the individuals closest to us? How did we care for those who loved us?
Many of us have grown up with a fear of aging and the inevitable infirmities it brings. But most of us are living longer and healthier lives. This provides us with opportunities to age more consciously, to explore self-development and spiritual growth, to access the wisdom that comes with years, and to live our lives with more meaning and purpose.
As I have become more conscious of my legacy, I am feeling more connected to my family and to my community. As an example, my young granddaughters have shown an interest in the needlepoint I do. I’ve been working with them on their skills during our occasional visits. It was my aunt who taught those skills to me a few decades ago. I’m trying to pass that down with the same patience and joy with which my aunt taught me. It is a legacy that has touched generations.
Zalman Schachter-Shalomi in his book “From Age-ing to Sage-ing,” describes a new model of aging he calls spiritual elderhood that takes advantage of our wisdom and potential that we may pass on to others.
Paraphrased from the book, here are some questions to consider as you think about the legacy you will be passing on:
How do I feel about aging? What do I look forward to? What do I fear?
Have I internalized negative models of aging from our culture? From my family life? From older people I’ve known?
What positive models of aging have I seen? Have I acquired any traits or attitudes that are helping me become an elder?
Can I imagine myself walking in the shoes of my positive models? How am I being helpful to society? How am I using my wisdom?
Is growing older a blessing or a burden?
For one aspiring to a positive elderhood, here is Zalman Schachter-Shalomi’s Elder Creed:
“An elder is a person who is still growing, still a learner, still with potential and whose life continues to have within it promise for, and connection to, the future. An elder is still in pursuit of happiness, joy, and pleasure, and his or her birthright to these remains intact. Moreover, an elder is a person who deserves respect and honor and whose work it is to synthesize wisdom from long life experience and formulate this into a legacy for future generations.”