A friend posted a link on Facebook to an NPR broadcast featuring a new book called Lastingness–The Art of Old Age by Nicholas Delbanco. I immediately put the book on hold at the library, as this is a subject I’ve been pondering often lately. In a world, particularly in a country, that values youth and its accomplishments, despair can set in when one’s life seems “over,” yet the impulse to be creative, to create something lasting, doesn’t end there, by any means. A quote from the introduction to the book: “Our generation, like all others, yearns to produce some something that continues — and the generative impulse, when artistic, lingers on.”
I have actually felt that yearning for most of my life, but it’s been more of a fear than a desire. Our time here on earth is so short, and most people disappear at the end of their lives with only a shred of memory in the minds of family members and a few close friends. To me, to have lived without leaving something significant behind that continues to influence and affect others would be a personal tragedy.
I was able to achieve a bit of “lastingness” in a small but significant way, back in 2001 when a story I wrote in 1998 was published in Chicken Soup for the Nurse’s Soul, and republished in 2008 in Chicken Soup for the Soul — Woman to Woman regarding my decision to attend nursing school, called “The Touch of Kindness.” It’s just a small, simple story, but since its publication I’ve received emails from time to time from people who’ve told me their children have been influenced to attend nursing school or that they’ve been comforted by the thought that there are such nurses in the world as the person I describe in the story, “Miss White.” I received another such email just a few days ago from overseas, and it was again gratifying to know I had written something that continues to affect others.
“The Touch of Kindness” was the first piece I’d ever written for publication; I’ve written many others since and had a number of them published, but none of them has had the impact of that first story. It’s the only story I’ve written that has true “lastingness.” As I continue to get older, I will certainly continue to write as long as I am able, but I may never create anything else that will influence people after my time on earth is finished.
This is what’s spurred my interest in my current project. Just after my mother died this past September I thought about the life she lived, how eventful it was, and how so few people would remember her; soon it would be as if she’d never lived at all. It became very important to me not to let her be forgotten, so I began writing her story, which I plan to finish later this spring. It may never be published; if I self-publish it, it may not sell. But it will be written down, and may somewhere, somehow inspire or influence someone who reads it.
I love to write; just the creative act of putting pen to paper, or letting words flow onto a computer screen, is reward enough. But knowing that those words can have a lasting impact makes writing especially worthwhile. The prospect and possibility of “lastingness” makes it even more compelling.