I just got home from an amazing evening at the home of Jacqueline Novogratz, a friend who came into my life about a decade ago. Jacqueline is the author of a marvelous book called The Blue Sweater, about her life's journey along the path that led to the founding of the Acumen Fund, a nonprofit global venture fund.

You know how sometimes you meet amazing people and think, hmm, why has this person come into my life just now? I felt that way when I met Jacqueline, but it was years before I saw the answer.

Jacqueline radiates life force, an energy that goes beyond charisma, though she has that, too. She is intense and driven and idealistic and profoundly good and caring. She and her team--for she would be the first to say that her work is never done alone--change the world for the better. Jacqueline is a connector; she runs circles round many, but she also draws circles around people, bringing them together, creating a safe place to let down guards and open hearts.

This evening thirty or forty women gathered to hear about a fascinating new book written by Sarah Murray, Making An Exit: From the Magnificent to the Macabre, How We Dignify the Dead. When her father died after a long illness, Sarah decided to learn more about grieving. She traveled around the world reporting on the rituals different societies have developed around death and mourning. And she began to think about her own death, how she might prepare for it, and what her legacy might be.

We were each asked to talk--for no more than a minute-- about what we wanted our legacy to be. As I am the sort of student who takes limitations very seriously, I thought and thought until I had narrowed my response down to fifteen seconds (not quite understanding that I was undersharing...) It was quite simple: I hope my children (for they are the ones for whom I hope to leave a legacy) will say, "She tried to make the world a better place."

Note emphasis: "tried"

I've had death on my mind quite a lot recently, with the sudden passing of my longtime friend (and college professor) Elisabeth Young-Bruehl. Grieving is such a strange and complicated process. You reel in a line of memory, and there, trailing behind the fresh grief, needing just a yank to pull it up, comes old pain, long-buried, covered in muck and weeds, suddenly exposed and raw, tangling round your heart. Its been like that.

I've been thinking about Elisabeth's legacy to me. She was someone who wanted to make the world a better place. And I believe she succeeded, with her writing, with her therapeutic work, and with her friendships and her teaching. Her new book about prejudice against children, Childism, is a significant achievement towards an understanding of the ways in which we, as a society, do not act in the best interests of our children.

Jacqueline is a person who is making the world a better place--in everything that she does. When I realized that my career as a magazine editor was at an end, that I no longer relished another such job, I went to talk to Jacqueline several times for advice about how to move forward. I realize now, looking back, that there was nothing specific she could tell me. What I wanted to learn from her was right there in the way she felt about her work, and in the impossibly enormous scope she gave herself.

Tonight, I realized with a start how important a light Jacqueline has been shining in some corner of my soul over the last five years as I've worked my way towards doing a new, different kind of work, one with which I feel profoundly engaged. I'm thinking now of our small effort with Moms Clean Air Force to fight air pollution on behalf of our children--to stop the pollution that is harming human health, and bringing on global warming, and the attendant climate chaos with which we are already struggling. It is getting worse; this is a legacy we are leaving our children and grandchildren. Will this be our biggest legacy? (And what of our childism in our disregard for our children's future?)

Jacqueline is the sort of person who makes others believe it is necessary to at least try to make the world better by your having passed through. Each of us has that capacity, and each of us needs to feel safe enough to unlock it. Each of us needs our Elisabeths and our Jacquelines, people in our lives who help us see the importance of hopeful, hopeless work--because making the world better is akin to emptying oceans with tablespoons, and at the same time, one must believe it is possible--and it is. As I got to know Jacqueline, I realized that I wanted to feel about my work the way she did; I wanted that passionate intensity, and that belief that it was serving a larger cause, and even if in a small way, doing good.

Jacqueline talked about the legacy she carries in her heart from her professor at Stanford, John Gardner, who, in the course of a long and distinguished career, at age 56 founded Common Cause. She met him when she was a grad student and he was in his late seventies, and as she describes it, they started talking and didn't stop until he died a dozen years later. She talked about how she wanted to give to others what he had given to her. Of course she is doing that; I could see it in so many of the faces of her colleagues and friends gathered this evening. I thought about what Elisabeth had given me, and how I wanted to share that...and though I have not had that singular focus in my life, until now, I understand that it is never too late to at least start trying to do something that feels impossibly ambitious.

If I had thought about a legacy fifteen years ago, I probably would have said, my children are my legacy. My children are, of course, their own people. I cannot claim them, though I did all that I could to set them on a right path-- which for the first years led towards me, that they would know I was always there for them, and for the next few years led away from me, that they would know they were free to move on-- and I held their hands along the way as long as I could.

My answer this evening fit into fifteen seconds. I hope my children will one day say of their mother: She tried to make the world a better place. But really, I could whittle it into a two-second pitch: She tried. If my children turn around and themselves try, and keep trying, I will have given them a meaningful legacy.

I'd love to extend the circle here, and ask you for your thoughts about your legacies. What do you hope your legacy will be? How do you want to be remembered? Do you think about that at all (without me posing this question) and does it guide you in choices you make?

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