Creating a Legacy
I have no clue when I first heard about a legacy. I doubt I knew anything about it until college days or even later. It might have been one of those things I heard about, but it never registers. I doubt very many young folks pay any attention to those kinds of things. By the time I was teaching and, especially, doing some fund raising, I became very aware of the idea of legacy. Only recently and only occasionally have I given any thought to my own legacy.
The word, legacy, often is associated with wills that dead people leave and about which the survivors learn in a court session or with the lawyers. Often, legacies have to do with money and property. Of course, some people are quite wealthy and their legacies to their heirs are remarkable. My parents did not fit that category! They left me and my siblings almost no money or property. I did not care. I did not have them as parents to make me wealthy!
It would be wrong to limit legacies to money or property. Basically the idea of legacy is whatever a deceased person leaves behind. Let’s widen the scope of meaning to include things like favors done, help offered, reputations enhanced, fame achieved, etc. In effect, your legacy is what folks will remember about you. Some legacies are so enormous, history will remember them.
Not all legacies are good. You can be an utter scamp or scoundrel and that will be your legacy. Hitler left an absolutely reprehensible legacy---six million Jews dead is an evil legacy! Contrast that with Mother Teresa to understand the stark contrast. In my own lifetime, I think of Martin Luther King, Jr., John F. Kennedy and Thomas Merton among so many. But not all the legacies I can bring to mind are famous people.
Some of my favorite legacies are, indeed, my parents. I can also think of the friends who helped me negotiate my entire educational pilgrimage. Without their help and encouragement, I would not be writing this piece. In a sense, they helped make me the person I am.
I am keenly aware that I am also creating a legacy. I am not finished with life, so my legacy is continuing to be written. I can add to it; I can damage it. My legacy will be not be about fame nor financial wealth. My kids don’t care---fortunately. But I will have a legacy and so will you. As I think about it, what is done is done. I still have a choice about what can yet be. What can I imagine adding yet to my legacy?
As I think about this, I realize that I want to put my legacy in the context of my own spiritual pilgrimage or discipleship. I also realize that I don’t care too much about reputation, although that is probably a good reflection of what you actually did. I would like to focus on three key aspects of the spiritual journey that I can yet improve and make a mark. Those three are obedience, love and service.
Obedience is an old-fashioned word that seems oddly out of place in a culture where it is important to do whatever you want to do. However, if we take the spiritual relationships seriously---in my case a relationship with the Holy One---then doing what that Holy One wants of me is a priority. Of course, God might ask something of me that is challenging. Of course, I am tempted to pray, “my will, not thy will.” But if I claim the spiritual relationship and journey is paramount, then obedience follows commitment. To do anything else is a lie.
I also would like to do more around the theme of love and have that a part of my legacy. When I write that sentence, I am not even sure what I mean. I suppose at the base level, pass the love test. But I am capable of more. I am capable of more love for those who are not my favorites. I want to push myself further into the zone of loving the unlovable. Great lovers have the capacity to love sacrificially. Jesus was a great lover. I still feel like I am love’s pre-school. I want to grow up and grow into more, deep love.
Finally, there is more I can do in the way of service. On this one, my reputation is probably better than I deserve. I want to upgrade my service in ways that might make a more profound difference. Again, I would like to serve more broadly than I do. In many ways it is easy to serve family and friends. Of course, I don’t want to quit doing that. But I want to broaden it. There are folks in the world who need a hand---or a foot or brain---to help them. I want to learn more deeply what it means to be a servant leader.
To add to my legacy is not really an end in itself. That simply is the way I have framed these spiritual reflections. The end of my legacy will commence with the end of my life. Perhaps one’s legacy is what will be said about you when nothing else can be said. I hope my final legacy is a trail of people who can narrate how my involvement somehow helped them in their lives. In some cases I am aware of what I have done and how I have helped. In other cases, I am sure, I have no clue how I might have helped.
Finally I hope the helping side of the ledger outweighs the hurting side. I confess that part of my legacy would be the negative stuff I wrought in people’s lives. I am human and, I guess, you are too. So we are still creating a legacy. Let’s work on the right side!