Definition: “Legacy is something that is passed on. But Legacy can take many forms. A Legacy may be of one's faith, ethics and core values… A Legacy may be monetary or your assets… A Legacy may come from one's character, reputation and the life you lead – setting an example for others and to guide their futures.”
Reading the book on Abraham Lincoln inspired me to begin a blog on legacy. Lincoln’s humility was apparent with his simple goal early-on: “To make any human being remember that I had lived,” was the push I needed to research the legacy topic. Reading about his sacrifices, inner drive and selflessness was riveting. The foundation of his legacy began from childhood struggles, following his desire to study law, teaching himself and the influence he had on friends and they had on him, marriage, jobs—all the experiences that made him the leader he became. I underlined how kindly he dealt with leaders under his authority, many times taking the blame for a decision they made to help them save face. He was, wise, dependable, caring and generous.
When I shared with my brother John that I was writing a blog on legacy, he told me how he taught legacy in his World Religions course on Death and Dying with students ranging in age from 17 to 30s. I was so surprised, impressed and challenged, I thought it might strike you the same way.
However, to ‘get the most bang for your buck’, join me in pretending that we, also, are freshmen enrolled in his class. The first half of the class was spent getting acquainted, seating preferences, description of the course and requirements followed by a break. Shh, Professor John is beginning.
“Something awful happened to you during the break. Write your own real-life obituary.”
(Take a few minutes to write your real-life obituary as though you suddenly left this world today and I’ll do the same. I)
They read their obituaries to the class, which resulted in raw emotions and shedding of tears for some.
“Assignment for tomorrow”, Professor John said, breaking the awkward atmosphere, “is to write a fantasy obituary--one that you’d prefer, projecting what kind of life you might dream about experiencing, what you would like to accomplish. Imagine what schooling you might get, jobs, marriage, children travel, and the age you project to which you might live. These will be shared in class tomorrow.”
Then, at the end of the semester, John assigned several questions to be answered, one of which was: What was your greatest learning in the class? Their answers ranged from, “The class freed me up to think and talk about death,” “It has helped me aspire to become the best person I can be,” and a young mother who wrote: “Writing my obituary was sobering and made me cry since I have small children.”
(I, too, found writing my obituary sobering in surmising what legacy I might leave. How about you?)
I got this far in researching for this topic. For some reason, for a couple of weeks, other topics kept jumping ahead of my partially-completed legacy blog.
Then, the death of Queen Elizabeth II and news of her great legacy brought to the forefront the legacy topic that by this time had cooled off a bit. I was spellbound learning about the life of the Monarch Queen Elizabeth II and her legacy. I wanted to include her example of grace, humility, discernment and fortitude that permeated her 70-year legacy.
I watched TV, listened to many worldwide testimonies and read articles about her outstanding example of selfless duty from the age of 14 and pledged herself at age 21 in service to her nation, never wavering as the living symbol of the British people.
“She reigned, never ruled,” an article read, “beginning her reign as Queen at age 25 as Britain’s head of state and constitutional figurehead as a modest, even shy girl, she became the most famous woman in the world, the most photographed and depicted human being in history, who met and shook hands with an estimated 4 million people or more during her reign for decades.”
Her eldest son, now King Charles III, speaking for the family said in part “The death of my beloved Mother, Her Majesty The Queen, is a moment of the greatest sadness for me and all the members of my family…. the passing of a cherished Sovereign and a much-loved Mother.” She shouldered raising four children along with responsibilities of the heavy head of state and constitutional figurehead for 70 years leaving a legacy of selfless duty and charm with a positive effect on leaders in many countries.
I finished the book on Abraham Lincoln last night, moved and inspired by what was said and written about him after he was assassinated--indeed a much sadder end to his sacrificial giving of his life to beginning our country--and offering deep understanding and appreciation for his legacy which in many aspects resembles Queen Elisabeth’s.
Walt Whitman wrote: Abraham Lincoln seems to me the grandest figure yet; on all the crowded canvas of the Nineteenth Century.
Leo Tolstoy, the greatest writer of the age, said: We are still too near to his greatness, but after a few centuries more our posterity will find him considerably bigger than we do. His genius is still too strong and too powerful for the common understanding, just as the sun is too hot when its light beams directly on us.
Yours and my legacy will not read like Lincoln’s or Queen Elizabeth’s, but nevertheless, we can leave some positive impact on how we treated others and contributed what positive and helpful influence we could. “And, if we don’t like our present legacy, we can change it” one of my friends stated after we chatted about this week’s blog. It’s never too late to improve our attitudes, opinions and actions.
The phrase “Bloom where you are planted” is good encouragement and direction for all of us no matter how much or how little resources, intelligence or influence that we have to share with the world. Being resolute in wisely and unselfishly using time, resources and influence sets an achievable precedent in improving anyone’s legacy.
Jesus was aware of His selfless sacrifice that would benefit the world as he said: I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. John 10:10 NIV).
I lay down my life--only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay down of my own accord. John 10:17-18 (NIV).
Father, help us to be confident of your constant love, presence and your willingness to give us direction for our daily lives through your Holy Spirit. Help us to be keenly aware that no matter how we live and speak, we are leaving a legacy. Amen.