04/30/2012 05:34 pm ET | Updated Jun 30, 2012

Legacy: Making a Difference

Our legacies are incomplete if the values we espouse are not backed up with action. It's easy to talk the talk, but walking that talk is very different. Using our lives to make a difference is something we all aspire to do, and to leave as part of our legacy for the future.

A Minnesota elementary school teacher, lover of books and reading, left a legacy that matched her passion. She explained that she didn't have the wealth to build a library, but she included a gift of books in her last will and testament.

"Not all of us can do great things.
But we can do small things with great love."
-- Mother Teresa

One way we walk the talk is through service I volunteered to participate in World Book Night last week. April 23, UNESCO's International Day of the Book, was celebrated by major publishers, booksellers and distributors cooperating to donate a million books, including local bookstores and book lovers throughout the country who became part of this legacy.

To be one of the 50,000 actual givers of a book meant both the privilege and the responsibility to choose one of the 30 titles and to whom 20 copies would go. The gargantuan idea and enormous effort to give away a million books in just one week was only possible because each of 50,000 volunteers took responsibility to give just 20 books. What could be more personal and simultaneously comunal? World Book Night blended business, community, and individual effort to put one book in the hands of a million people, many of whom may never have owned a book of their very own.

I chose: Barbara Kingsolver's Poisonwood Bible (my personal choice for the 20th century's best novel, comparable to Moby Dick, the best of the 19th century). Briefly, The Poisonwood Bible is a complex tale of a missionary family from Georgia living in Patrice Lumumba's Congo in the middle of the 20th century. The historical and political context of colonial struggle and independence is mirrored by a father's colonization of his family of daughters.

We also got to choose our pickup place. I decided on my favorite children's independent bookstore, The Wild Rumpus, where I have been buying hand-picked books for my seven grandchildren since I could first read to them. The Wild Rumpus added to the festive nature of the project with a champagne and h'ors d'oeuvre gathering, that included a stimulating conversation about books and reading. They sent each of us off with a fresh tulip to celebrate.

And finally, each volunteer decided who would receive the free books. I considered a local women's shelter where homeless and abused women find safety, our local Women's Prison Book Project where new and used books are shipped to incarcerated women, my local food shelf, STEP, where more than the need for food for the body of local families is addressed, and finally Shakopee Women's Prison (where I led an early women's legacies circle when I was writing Women's Lives, Women's Legacies.)

Whether you're the original creator of a legacy gift or you volunteer to be but a tiny cog in a great project, you can make a difference in others' lives.

The question is: How can you, how will you, make a difference with what matters to you today, this week, month and year? What values, what passions, are yours to leave as a legacy to make others' lives better in the future?

Suggestions for Action:

1. Make a list of the things you love to do, (garden, read, arrange flowers, sew, rollerskate, swim....)

2. Choose one; reflect about ways you can share your passion (everything from a legacy letter to a physical offering of your time and effort). Figure out ways to give someone else the pleasure and fulfillment you feel.

3. Make a simple plan to share it. Make your plan concrete by scheduling your legacy activity in your calendar.

4. Do it!

5. Reflect on how you felt from beginning to end. Share your reflections in a legacy letter to a friend or someone in a younger generation to celebrate your joy and to spread the idea of giving your gifts. Use the comments area on The Huffington Post (where this is posted) to share your experience even more broadly.

May the million books of the
World Book Night project
redeem all the book burnings
our world has ever known,
and may it make a difference for the
many individuals who do their part
to give to our world from their hearts.

"May your legacy include
making a difference with great love"
-- Rachael Freed

You can find out more about communicating and preserving your legacy (ethical will) at or through e-mail,

Rachael Freed has published several works including Women's Lives, Women's Legacies, Passing Your Beliefs and Blessings to Future Generations and Heartmates: A Guide for the Spouse and Family of the Heart Patient. She is currently working on Harvesting the Wisdom of Our Lives: An Intergenerational Legacy Guide. Senior Fellow at the University of Minnesota's Center for Spirituality and Healing, Rachael is a clinical social worker, adult educator and legacy consultant. Her home is Minneapolis, Minnesota. For more information, visit and Follow her on Twitter:

For more by Rachael Freed, click here.

For more on mindfulness, click here.