Monday, August 22, 2016

Ode To Legacy

If Hillary Clinton becomes the president, daughter Chelsea will have the distinction of the daughter of parents who both served as president. The odds of having one's father serve as president are already staggering, but to have a mother too? For Chelsea's children to have two president grandparents? What a legacy.

My cousin's father, a man I never knew, married a woman who was the granddaughter of Theodore Roosevelt.

One night while visiting her father, she stayed up late watching television and happened to catch a documentary on the Roosevelt family. She always knew her step mother was a Roosevelt, but when she saw photos of her as part of the presidential family, it was surprising, and somewhat exciting to see her link with the Roosevelt legacy.

With the recent passing of an acquaintance's mother, I've been thinking about legacies. Wendy P. was a committed patron of the arts who spent her time on school boards and helping to raise money to build a cultural venue for the ballet, the opera, and other performers of merit. Upon her death, her legacy was applauded, appreciated, and brought great comfort to her daughter.

I recently bought a short story collection by Lucia Berlin. I had never heard of her, but her friends went to a lot of trouble to publish her stories posthumously. Their praise is lavish, but they do mention one of her legacies: alcoholism and eventually beating it. Though plagued in life with a disease, her greater legacy is the defeat of her demon. The triumph, without the failure, wasn't possible.

Few of us will ever have the distinction of presidential-connected legacies; it is more common to hear our friends' claims to horse thieving ancestors, or to have had an Archie Bunker loving father, or even  a legacy we try to ignore. When I inquired about the accent of a woman sitting next to me at breakfast, I learned she was a Jew from Poland. Given her age, I suspected she had lived through Nazi atrocities. When she said her past was painful, I knew her legacy was private and all her own.

So, I've been thinking of my own family's legacy and of course, my own. Hopefully, we all consider our own legacies; it may seem vain, but we should want to leave behind a positive history of our life. Yet, our actions should be motivated by more than wanting to leave a legacy; it should stem from a desire to make the world, however small, a better place. With this approach, true legacies are created. There is a difference between historical figures and the designation of a legacy.

 Author, speaker Rasheed Ogunlaru captures the essence of this best: "Legacy is not what’s left tomorrow when you’re gone. It’s what you give, create, impact and contribute today while you’re here that then happens to live on." 

With this in mind, probably the greatest legacies are not crafted, pondered or calculated~~ or even written about (mea culpa).

However, a few more thoughts on legacy since we can't help leaving a part of us behind:

Your legacy grows with each new experience, with each previously untested idea and bold ideal that you are courageous enough to deploy, and each time you inspire others to see something through to fruition. Glenn Llopis, Forbes magazine

"I alone cannot change the world, but I can cast a stone across the waters to create many ripples.” Mother Theresa