It’s easy to see how some people create a legacy through how they live their lives, but are you aware of how you are doing this? Does a legacy have to be grand to count? Maybe what follows will answer that question.
Years back I watched a PBS series titled "Road Trip," where the narrator took his parents, who were in their eighties, around the United States in an RV. Sometimes when we observe others, we focus on the surface of what we see. So, what was under the surface in this instance?
The son revealed that his parents' first child was a daughter who did not live long. The four brothers grew up aware they'd had a sister and that their parents preferred not to speak about that loss. The son said he always wondered how their lives would have been different had their sister lived; that the factor of one, whether with us or gone from us, can have a profound effect.
In the final minutes of the last segment, the father sat peacefully at the end of a pier and looked out over a serene lake in a wooded area. In the voiceover for that scene, the son commented that his father was always ready to sing and laugh despite the fact he had buried a child, fought in a world war, lost his fortune and retirement twice, won over cancer, sustained a marriage for six decades, and with his wife raised four sons into good men. He said when his father left the earth no one would name a street after him or take special note of him in history. Yet, he left a quiet legacy that would affect several generations because of who he was and how he chose to live his life. The father’s factor of one touched and influenced every person he interacted with, most especially his family.
The father didn’t focus on creating a legacy; he focused on living in a way that made sense to him, especially when faced with life events and circumstances that had the potential to wear him down. He aimed to do and be the best he could, in light of whatever came his way. Some of us are aware of the legacy we create through how we live and what and how we contribute to others and life. Most of us never give our legacy a thought, which is fine. Such contemplation isn’t required in order for a legacy to be created; it’s created with or without that contemplation.
At this point, you may be thinking about moments from your past that you don’t feel good about. Anything from your past that you regret—let it go—it’s over. You can make better choices from this moment on. You know more and are more now than you were then. Yes, learn from those times, but let them go. Right now, in the moment you stand in, you can decide who you are and how you want to be and will be, from this time forward, aware that you leave an imprint. I recall something I was told by a music teacher way back when: even if you mess up in the middle of singing a song, as long as you end the song really well, that’s what people will mostly remember. Your life can be the same as a song. Your life is your song.
We all have occasion to feel overwhelmed by events. In such moments, we may temporarily forget our contribution to the bigger picture of our shared lives. We may forget that our own factor of one creates ripples at all times. On the positive side of this, we don’t always know when one seemingly simple gesture, word, or kindness on our part reaches into the heart of another and makes a significant difference. I venture to say this happens more often than we are aware of.
Legacy is about what we contribute while we’re here. It doesn’t have to be grand; it just has to come from our heart and authentic self. It may be as simple as the example we are to others, not that we are to overwhelm or burden ourselves with thoughts of this. Our example does not guarantee good or bad behavior from others. Each of us is, after all, responsible for who and how we are and what we choose. It’s ultimately about what we desire to see when we view ourselves in the mirror of our lives, not how others see us. However, in some respects, they will see us the way we see ourselves, as well as some of our aspects we are not necessarily conscious of.
Keep in mind that every moment of our time on this earth is a pebble dropped into a pond. We may be aware of how we affect those nearest to our center point and forget to be aware of how far the ripples may travel. Each of us creates a legacy, more often a fairly quiet one than not. But as with the quantum universe, the size of our legacy is irrelevant. Every ripple is significant in some measure, contributes to the whole. Every ripple is a relevant thread in the larger tapestry.
Perhaps from this moment on, we can remember that we are weavers and can seek to ensure that some of our threads are ones that endure the tests of time, integrity, and merit. It’s never too late to start now. It’s a good practice, one you’ll appreciate.
Practice makes progress.