How Shall I Live, Knowing I Will Die?

Circle with spokes coming out of it. In the middle of the circle the phrase "my legacy-now + after" is writtenOf the four deep questions asked by the workshop leader, “How shall I live, knowing I will die?”, was the one that hit me the most. My first thought was, “Am I afraid to live my life intentionally”?

“Who am I?”, “What is my gift?”, and “What do I love?” were the questions that came first. All were from Wayne Muller’s book How Then, Shall We Live?: Four Simple Questions That Reveal the Beauty and Meaning of Our Lives. We reflected on these interrelated questions individually and then shared our answers with a partner. Pretty scary, I have to say. This all happened on my Day of Reflection1 in 2019 at Kripalu, a nearby retreat center for yoga and health, and definitely a safe space.

As a 56-year-old, I am in “that” phase of life. For me, this all boiled down to the question, what legacy do I want to leave? I realized, too, that the legacy started the day I was born and would continue after I died. After the workshop, I spent a lot of time thinking about how I would live my life intentionally.

Being an analytical and visual person, I started by drawing a circle and writing “my legacy—now & after” inside it. I added random spokes of what or who I could impact: family, environment, systems, philanthropy, community, well-being, health, home, etc. I tried not to overthink and recategorize spokes or evaluate myself on what changes I could actually make.

This led to questions about myself and what I had to offer. How can I really change my community? What skills, experiences, or passions do I bring to the table? I found it helpful to start a list of my values and preferences, such as “I want more of a connection with people” and “I work better with one individual or in a small group.”

Thinking about actions to date in my life, I considered which ones I wanted to do more of (e.g., hospice volunteering) or less. What haven’t I done that I wanted to try? Are there unmet needs in my family or community? The ideas just kept coming.

I wrote down intentional actions/goals for the year as well as some longer-term ones. I want to bike to work more, develop an annual value-based charitable giving plan, explore a new volunteer idea, and help get more women elected.

A year later, I looked at that list of actions/goals not as tasks I need to check off a list, but as part of a reflection. Is this what I intended? What did I learn about myself this past year? How did I add to my legacy? Because I spent time contemplating and committing to paper what I intended to do in the prior year, I found that my actions were more in line with my intentions this year. And the cycle starts again, the legacy continues.