Network newscasts have always tried to end with a story that will send us away smiling, or at least, make us feel hopeful. During the dark times we’re experiencing now, shining a light on good news is certainly welcome. Often someone is singled out for an act of generosity. Heroic moments are celebrated, too, like one recently with a former football receiver catching a three year-old thrown by his mother from the third floor window of a burning building. The mother, tragically, didn’t survive.
Nicolle Wallace’s Deadline: White House and the PBS Newshour with Judy Woodruff now conclude their programs by focusing on those who have died from the virus. (These segments often bring Wallace to tears.) On NBC’s Sunday Morning Today, Willie Geist narrates a tribute called “A Life Well Lived,” where someone no longer with us is celebrated. Part of the show for a long time, these portraits resonate.
Seldom do any of these salutes recognize a grand gesture, like a billionaire or a celebrity donating money to an organization or a cause. Rather we learn about small acts of kindness, the ones we desperately need now. And while these people may be honored on television or on social media, most never sought the spotlight. Somehow broadcasting good deeds diminishes them. We’ve all had an experience where we hear about the death of a business associate, acquaintance, or friend and then learn about all the lives they touched. While we didn’t know, rest assured that all those children, teens, and adults who benefited did know and, we assume, they were grateful.
Yet pandemic exhaustion is setting in. One news article reported that even celebrities who promised to entertain us each day with a Facebook post or Instagram message have stepped back. We are all like Sisyphus, forced to roll a boulder up a hill for eternity. How can we lift others up when we need lifting up, too?
We can start small. Maya Angelou once said: “Your legacy is everything you do every day. Your legacy is every life you’ve touched.” Think about it. You may be remembered by a friend because you called her to make sure she was okay. It may be the kind word you said to the supermarket checkout person who looks exhausted. Perhaps that graduation card you sent a high school senior with encouraging words will be saved and looked at again some day. We have less opportunities for face to face encounters these days, but we can still make our presence known and help to support someone when they most need it.
During the pandemic, relatives are prevented from holding a funeral for a loved one. Many are posting their memories on social media. Perhaps once the virus is under control, there will be memorial services where those who knew the deceased can get together, maybe even hug, and share their recollections – happy and sad – so that there can be some closure. But right now, we can remember the person, too, whether in a Facebook post or a card. We can reach out to their families with kind words.
A popular question put to people, whether they are famous or not, is “how do you want to be remembered?” Each one of us can answer that question, not for public consumption, but for a reality check on ourselves. What is truly important to us? What should we be doing now – yes, even in the midst of a pandemic – to make a difference? Are we humble enough to perform these deeds without seeking recognition or even a “thank you?”
It won’t be easy. Each day it seems to be tougher to get out of bed to face a world that continues to spin out of control. But perhaps if we start by thinking about just one thing we can do – just one thing – to make someone’s life better, that’s a start. There’s much we can do now, in these most difficult times, to truly achieve “a life well lived.”
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