In Summary

The other day, I was having conversation with a friend - you know the kind (the conversation, that is, not the friend) - the kind that takes place late at night when it's dark outside, your shields are down, making you get all deep and philosophical. Great fun, but it makes you think for days. This particular part of the conversation was about epitaphs, as in what would you want your epitaph to be. Aside from the fact that I'm not sure something as complex as a human life can - or should - be summed up in a pithy one-liner, as an exercise in connecting with what you consider meaningful, what you would like your life to mean, it's interesting. Also potentially depressing if you upon consideration discover that you would've liked to colonize Mars and instead became a well digger, but let's skip right over that part...

I remember exactly where I was and when the moment I realized what my life's ambition was. I was in my teens, in my room in Denmark watching the news on TV. There was a story about the death of a relatively famous author and the anchorperson (although in those days, they were news announcers - they read the news, they didn't star in it) told us about the books the person had written and the difference they had made in their life. And that's when I realized that when I died, I wanted it to be on the news, not because I had died in a particularly horrifying or entertaining way, but because I had made a contribution in some authorly way.

Being a teenager, naturally I interpreted this to mean that I wanted to save the world and this goal continued for several years until the last year of my undergraduate degree, where I realized that saving the world was a bit of a tall order. After a period of existential angst and a deep funk at this loss of purpose, I figured out that all you can do, as one tiny person, is to do your best to change your world, because it's quite possible that whatever changes you may create have ripple effects and as a butterfly beating its wings in Brazil, your actions may travel down a chain of other human lives and effect change elsewhere. Then I felt much better.

I'm still working on that book that will get me to the point where somebody on TV will mention me when I die - a goal which feels less essential now than it did in my adolescence - but the thing about making a difference has stuck around. And I'm trying not to laugh at the very "generic Miss Universe answer" quality of that, because we all want to make a difference, don't we? But there is, trite though it may be. So I try, because that's all we can do - do our best. You never know when a small kind thing will ripple to a large kind thing, right? So I'd like my epitaph - without tiara and plastic smile - to be 'She made a difference'.

What would you want yours to be?

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