Last year I made it to the 30th reunion of the Class of 1985 . It turns out that most people look a little different thirty years down the track to how they may have looked at school, aged 17. Some unrecognisably so.
The reunion included a tour of the school. Parts were almost unchanged, other parts unrecognisable and entirely repurposed. For someone whose visits over the last three decades have been contained to Lane 3 of the swimming pool, it was a privilege to see a rich tradition deepen and grow.
As we entered the large performing arts space where we spent long assemblies on plastic moulded chairs, and opening nights waiting in the wings for cues, I saw again the long western wall that I’d studied as subsequent years of schooling moved me from the front to the back.
The wall is lined with photos of teachers who have been recognised for their long service. The minimum entry requirement for this ‘Hall of Fame’ is 21 years. Only one or two of those teachers were still in active service back in the day, but while they were unfamiliar, their faces slowly became indelible (long assemblies will do this). Rossiter, Cooper, Ward, Simpson…on they stretched through the wall of the hallowed hall. Some with 25 years under their belt, some 30 or 40, all the way up to the remarkable biology teacher, Mildred Manning, who served on the school’s teaching staff for 54 years. The science building still bears her name.
Mildred triggered a thought for me: on whose lives am I making an impact as I journey with them over the long haul? Not for the sake of public acclaim or to be celebrated as some unknown face on the wall, but is my loyalty, patience, encouragement and perseverance, making a lasting impression on the lives of a few, for God’s glory?
Whatever we do, whatever the workplaces and communities in which we locate ourselves, whatever our roles and positions, we have the opportunities to leave legacies in the lives of others. It’s volitional for both the giver and the receiver. While we can’t control the way in which our forays of love are received, we can certainly pray for the energy, capacity, wisdom and tenacity to give it. And continue to give it.
I quote Hebrews 12 too often, but I’m continually impacted by the vivid picture of the stadium filled by the crowd of witnesses as the runners run the race. Every one of those witnesses is there because they’ve chosen to be. Every one of the runners is there, in part, because they’ve found a race worthy of running with endurance but also, in no small part, because of the witnesses that continue to offer encouragement as they circle the track. Offering wisdom on how best to run the race. Offering consolation when the race becomes tougher and tougher. And cheering when the runners make their best moves.
These witnesses are the photos on the wall of our lives. The voices are often active, alive and present. Sometimes they’re voices, words and wisdom from years past, but their mark, their legacy, is indelible nonetheless.
I have a poolroom of them. People who have prayed for me, invested in me, encouraged me, continue to encourage me. People with names like Peter, Daisy, Colin, Allan, and John. Some for a season, some for a lifetime. People with names like Fiona, Brad, Simone, Doug, Lucas, and Sera. People who look and listen.
You can be one of those witnesses to another. You can cheer from the grandstand and shoot adrenaline into the souls of a few. And, sometimes, when it gets tough, you can climb down onto the track, and run a few hard laps with them as well. That’s what legacies look like; they’re invested and volitional.
If people are fueled by the currency of encouragement, are your words propelling them, or bleeding them dry? Lifting them up, or bringing them down? Helping them believe they can, or causing them to shrink back with doubt?
Choose your own adventure, for sure, yet never underestimate the mark you can make and the propulsion you can give to the life of another.