I come from a long line of brick masons and builders, which is probably why I often feel so unimportant sitting at the keyboard of a tiny laptop.
My mother comes from a small town in south Mississippi; a place where those builders in her family have been active for a long, long time. She told me this past weekend that her grandfather built the school her father attended, her father built the school that she and her siblings attended, and her brother and his son helped build the current high school. Four generations of one family, laying down the building blocks for the future of the town.
They had the blessing of physically laying blocks down. It’s rare, as we often don’t see the non-physical building blocks that we place every single day through our actions.
I’ve heard many stories about where I come from. Grandfathers who were World War veterans. Great-grandfathers who were pastors and tough guys, working the land for a living. Strong southern women, too stubborn to let poor health stop them from taking care of their houses, land, children, nieces and nephews, or whatever it may have been. Toughness, mixed with a heavy dose of selfless generosity. Building blocks for those who would come later. Building blocks for me to live off of.
There are times in which it makes me feel wildly inadequate. Like when another job turns me down, or when I write yet another piece that I look at and hate, or whenever I visit the towns my parents grew up in. I’ve never known the same hardships that my forefathers knew. So much of that is due to those building blocks proving a better life for me. So much of that inadequacy is because I focus too much on what blocks I might be laying down.
In this digital age, it’s all too easy to get caught up in buzzwords. We throw terms around like “platform” or talk about “living a good story” and “chasing a dream” all the time, as if it’s become our grand purpose in this life. We feel fine ignoring the fact that this is the most self-important form of entitlement we can show. Our behavior constantly screams, “Hey, look at me and my opinions on what we’re doing wrong! Look at the message of love I preach by hating on those who have different opinions! Look at how special my story is and the way that I tell it!” Meaningless. Meaning less.
I only say it because it’s how I act on a daily basis. I like to mask it, though, and I choose to mask it behind normal concerns. I write without knowing why it is I write. I constantly worry about whether I will ever find a career that makes me feel like I’m not wasting my time. I shed tears about friends who are no longer in my life. I wonder whether I will ever settle down and have kids and all of that.
But behind that mask? It’s all a constant fear that I will never be important. All a fear that the blocks I’ve put down in my life are fragile and worthless and will be forgotten.
Then I look back on those generations before me and I’m humbled. My great-grandfather didn’t care about what his platform was when he finished his service in World War I. He just knew that he needed to get home and work the land, so he bought a rifle and mule and followed the Mississippi River from Illinois until he was home. My grandfather wasn’t worried about chasing a dream when he jumped into the water under fire in WWII to save a drowning sailor. He just saw an area where he could help and went for it.
Grandfathers, my uncle, and my cousin weren’t preoccupied with making sure their names were on the bricks they laid in the schools they built. They knew the importance of the bricks themselves, not the people who were putting them down. And because of that, they built a far more important legacy than anything that anyone on Twitter has encouraged me to do.
When I focus on what “platform” I may have, I think about my great aunt, who selflessly preached the Gospel through her words and actions to her children and nieces and nephews daily. She didn’t need a grand platform, she needed to care for those in her life. She wasn’t planning on changing the world in some grand auditorium or with a viral piece of writing. She was focused on changing the worlds of her family members.
When I worry that I’m not telling “my story” properly, I think about my grandfather’s old dirty boots. General George Patton saw them randomly, said they were too old and worn, and got a new pair for him. He wasn’t concerned with making sure the moment was eloquently told over the rest of his life. He was more concerned with his time as a volunteer fire fighter in the tiny town he lived and raised my father in.
When I wonder if I’ll ever settle down with my own family someday, I think instead about the people I already have in my life. It’s then that I see the building blocks I actually have been putting down, and they have nothing to do with blogging and Twitter.
They’re the moments I’ve spent as a crying shoulder for someone who needed it. They’re the days I’ve helped somebody move when I could have been doing something else. They’re the miles I’ve driven for the sake of just showing that I care. They’re not the times somebody has complemented my writing, but the times that somebody has looked directly into my mess and thanked me for being genuine. They are blocks that I have somehow been blessed enough to be able to place in the lives of those I care about.
Those are my building blocks. They’re the rare moments in which I am not focused on myself. And I know that they will last, because those building blocks are far more important than the one who lays them.
My legacy won’t be in writing. Like the men and women before me who cared more for others than they cared for themselves, I can lay down blocks of selflessness and not self-promotion. I can pray for opportunities to become less and less self-important, and more and more giving.
Those are the blocks that matter. And as I get older, I see that as the potential my legacy holds. And that’s more than adequate.
Happy birthday to me.