Mar 14, 2022
4 mins read
Legacy is a concept I've pondered for many of my adult years. Perhaps it's the genealogist in me that wonders often, will the memory of me wash away with time? The truthful answer, I've come to realize, is probably. Ouch, right?
I've spent the better part of fifteen years researching and documenting my family's history. I find it so fascinating, and it satisfies the detective part of my personality. What has been striking to me and so relevant to the discussion of legacy is that it's relatively simple to learn facts about someone's life but very difficult to understand who they were. When a person was born, where they lived, when and where they died have been recorded for many centuries now but it's a rare artifact indeed to find anything written that sheds any light on the human behind those easily discovered facts.
Sometimes facts, put together, can tell a story certainly. For example, my great-great-grandfather left his family in a small village in the countryside of Germany to voyage over 4200 nautical miles alone to a country he'd never seen before and in which he didn't speak the primary language in order to start a new life at the age of 15. That paints a vague but decisive picture. We don't know his motives or his demeanor but what we do know is that he was courageous. Add to that the fact that he and his wife were the patriarch and matriarch of a sprawling family many generations later. That's one example of a legacy. But I want more! I want to know what kind of man he was. I want his story. Was he kind or cruel? Was he generous or a miser? Was he a leader or a follower? These are questions we'll never have answers to because no one wrote it down, and the memory of the man himself, other than the facts we know, is lost to time.
In my journey to understand this concept of legacy and what it means for me, I've also asked, why? Why is legacy so important to me? Well, I've often said that the Lord has given me an extra helping of ego. I say this mostly in jest, but in many ways, it's true. Maybe I think I'm so important that generations after me must know who I was. It sounds ridiculous even to write those words, but the subconscious works that way sometimes, so it's worth, in all humility, examining ourselves, warts and all. I think there's a big part of anyone who wants to feel like they matter to someone. It's completely natural, and I believe it's one of the core perceptions that drive contentment or discord in a person's life. So even if that's an egotistical perception, I don't think it's inherently wrong either. I want to matter to someone. OK, got it.
Perhaps legacy comes in the form of wealth or other tangible things, like a trust fund, a home, or a set of china or silver. Anecdotally, I think throughout history, this is likely what people would point to when asked about legacy, and it can undoubtedly be defined that way. Even the Mirriam-Webster dictionary defines legacy as "something transmitted by or received from an ancestor or predecessor or from the past." So perhaps it's "stuff" that I should pass down. Well, although I'm a sucker for an awesome generational hand-me-down, this feels shallow and lacks meaning to me. How would generations following me know who I am by "stuff"?
So after pondering this question for years and questioning my motives for doing so, here's my take on how I plan to go about securing my version of legacy.
First, I acknowledge that I want future generations to know me if they're interested in doing so. I justify this egotistical thought by knowing that I have wanted to know who my ancestors were but lacked any real way to do so in most cases.
Second, I endeavor to affect the people closest to me positively as to be memorable. This is hard. Very, very hard, in fact, but perhaps the most essential ingredient. After all, aren't the most notable people the ones who have touched our hearts or broken them in one way or another?
Third, I plan to live a life worth remembering. This is also hard and could be a topic for discussion alone. But if I could put a point on it, it would look like someone being the hero of their own story.
Fourth, I plan to establish some tangible items that could get passed down. In my personal life, my family knows me best for my cooking, and true to the concept I'm writing about here, I've accumulated many recipes that belonged to many of my and my wife's ancestors. I plan to put all that together into a cookbook made just for my children with little stories about the people they came from. I've always felt l like the food someone cooks tells a bit about who they are.
And finally, I plan to write stories I'm proud of and publish them so that future generations can get a glimpse into my mind, even if it's only my imagination. I hope they enjoy those stories and enjoy the glimpse of who I am. That would be enough for me.