Since my last post, we have had a birth, and we have had a death in my extended family. Both those passages of life have gotten me thinking about legacies.
With a birth, a new story begins. As the child grows, not only will there be the natural dispositions of the person – the likes, dislikes, natural abilities and personal gifts but also experiences, lessons, luck and hardships that living as a human being on earth offers. But we do not come into this world as a clean slate, waiting to be filled. We are born into circumstances. Our gender, cultural heritage, family dynamics, economic advantages or lack of, even the place on the map where we are born all contribute to the back story of our being. While these can be transcended as we grow and become independent adults, they can never be completely erased. They are the marks of our beginning.
In death, the story ends, but only the self directed part. We personally can no longer add to our story, but the story does still continue. That is our legacy.
Now at some point in most peoples lives, the insightful kind of folks at any rate, we will give some considerable thought to what we want our personal legacy to be. Here is where a lot of us get it wrong because we think that a legacy is a tangible thing. Something that future people will point to and say, “Diana created that in her life.” Diana being me, your resident crone, but feel free to insert your name instead.
The reality is that very few will ever leave that kind of legacy. The ones that get to wear that kind of legacy badge are monumentally rare human beings whose actual actions or creations have some how managed to transcend time. Great masters of elevated works like Michelangelo, or Mozart. Historical figures whose actions have forever changed cultures, even the world, would also be included. Peaceful leaders like Jesus, Mohammed, Gandhi, and not so peaceful leaders like Genghis Khan, Hilter, even Alexander the Great all left a legacy mark on history for generations, even centuries.
Then there are those whose legacy last a generation or two past their own, but sooner or later, fade to near obscurity. Their legacies, like great monuments, eventually decay and crumbled back into the earth and are forgotten by time. For my generation, it is unthinkable to imagine no one knowing who Elvis Presley or the Beatles where, yet I have encountered teenagers today, just a few generations on, who don’t know who they were or ever heard their music.
So what will be your legacy? What can you possibly do to mark that you once lived? Seems kind of daunting when you begin to understand how fleeting the collective memory can be and yet believe it or not, you will leave one.
Your true legacy is in the people who you’ve touch along the way and not the physical things that you create.
Let’s go back to death and the end of you creating your story. The first sign of it’s continuation past your death is in the folks who feel compelled to keep their memory of you alive by sharing their experiences and recollections of you. They will reminiscence and remember the stories you created around your life but after a time, the memories will fade and all that will be left is a few pivotal moments that left an indelible mark on their heart and soul.
“She was always laughing, so carefree.” “He never smiled and was oh, so serious all the time.” Not memories as much as observations of you personally.
Then before you know it, and a generation on, a child is born into your family who’s only understanding of you is from an old picture at a relative’s home or through the stories and observations of those still alive who knew you when you also lived.
But you did leave that child a legacy, and it is most important that you understand this concept. The legacy you left helped create the back story that the generations to come will be born into.
Think about that for a moment. The choices you made in your life, the adventures you had, your personal successes or failures, are all part of the foundation of subsequent generations.
Here are some examples: your resolution to migrate to another country changed the next generation’s culture. Your decision to go to university elevated the educational opportunities for them as well. Your choice of partner might have stirred the heritage pot adding another race into their DNA profile.
Your legacies are not limited only to your family. Your actions have touched others people’s lives as well, sending a ripple of change in them too. My daughter recently told me a story of a regular customer who came into her place of work one day and upon being asked how his day was going, felt comfortable enough to open up and confided that he was having a rough one. The staff not only boosted him up with words of support but they also paid for his lunch. He returned the following week and told her boss that he had planned to end his life that day and had only come in to have a last favourite meal but because my daughter and her coworkers connected with compassion and caring, he decided instead to call a crisis line and get help.
My daughter and her coworkers touched this man and left a mark that he will not soon forget. He is alive today because of that one act of kindness. His kid’s lives will not be marked with the legacy of trauma by the suicide of their father and now potentially, he may live to touch the lives of the next generation of his family as well. That is a real legacy.
Our actions and choices as we interact with others are our true legacies. My daughter and her coworkers could have just as easily been cold and uncaring towards this man and a much darker legacy may have been created. You never know how your actions can touch another person but have no doubt, good or bad, you will leave a mark with your decision.
So I ask again, what will your legacy be when you pass on from this life? How will the children of your families next generation be affected by the back story you’ve left for them? And what of the others who have been touched by you – your friends, coworkers, even total strangers? The fact is, you can never know what your legacy will be. It is only by being a decent human being, helping where you can, making good choices, and building a body of interactions with other humans, that you create the potential for the kind of legacy that can transcend time.