A few years ago I led a reading group at a nursing home. We read and discussed Mitch Albom’s book, The Five People You Meet in Heaven. It turned out we did a lot of talking, not about heaven, but about how we are living and what our legacy on this earth will be when we complete the human journey. It was an amazing experience to sit with people aged 88 to 103 to reflect on the meaning of their lives. We addressed questions like: What will remain of me when I leave this world? What will people remember about me? What have I done that will join the ancient life-force energy? What events in my life made all the difference in this world to someone else? Without intending to, we had stumbled into the world of legacy, an important topic for people of all ages.
There are so many good people in the world and if we are blessed we experience them daily. Whether it is a person with whom we intimately share daily life, a revered member of our community, a relative, teacher or co-worker, life is enriched by the people we meet. If you are blessed you can identify a few people who have made a dramatic difference in your life. These are the people whose legacy has impacted yours. Maybe they meant to make a difference and quite possibly they didn’t, but the remarkable thing about legacy is that people leave an enduring imprint on other people. To identify these people, it is good to ask yourself this question: “Who made all the difference in the world to me?” Then if you dare, ask, who when they ask this question, would utter my name and why?” That is your legacy.
I am constantly reminded as I hear the stories of people whose obituaries I write or funerals I plan, that profound meaning is found not in the spectacular, but in the simple gifts we give each other every day. What we do or fail to do for each other is realized in their feelings about us. As Maya Angelou so aptly put it, “At the end of the day people won’t remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel.” Therefore the most revealing work of legacy is the imprint we have left on another’s heart.
Good funerals reveal the heart of a person’s legacy. Whether choosing the readings, selecting songs, writing the obituary or the eulogy, these outward actions, reveal the inner meaning of a person’s life. A person’s legacy is how we will remember them, the specific things we recall they said or did or how relationship with them felt. Your legacy carries your inner most truth and the outward actions that made a difference to others. Legacies are passed from one generation to the next, or person-to-person, and carry precious ideas, deep love, enriching stories that guide and give hope and courage. We are creating our legacy every moment of every day. Like grain that is sown, remains in the earth a while, sprouts and yields its gift in due time, so too with each of us.
“ To live in hearts we leave behind is not to die.”
- Thomas Campbell –