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Leaving a lasting legacy

By Randy Weeks

As President Obama prepares to leave office, news sources are asking what his legacy will be. What will the 150 or so celebrities who died in 2016 be remembered for? What will we pass on to future generations? It’s important for us to ask ourselves what we’ll leave behind and the beginning of a new year is an excellent time to do so.

The poet Rumi wrote, “Every moment I shape my destiny with a chisel. I am a carpenter of my own soul.”

If the only way people would know you after your death were by the inscription on your tombstone, what would you want it to say? What word would paint an accurate picture of who you were? What message would you want to convey? Ponder that for a moment. Better yet, stop reading this and take the time to determine what those words might be — right now.

I believe that the vast majority of us want to leave a legacy that is a fond remembrance of whatever higher ideals we held. Jesus said we would be known by the fruit we produce (Matthew 7:15-20).

According to the Apostle Paul, the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control (Galatians 5:22-23). The spiritual produce that Paul wrote of can be a compass for us on this journey we call “life.”

There are hundreds of meaningful sayings about living so as to leave an honorable legacy. Here are a few:

“Values are like fingerprints. Nobody’s are the same, but you leave them all over everything you do.”

— Elvis Presley

“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.”

— Mahatma Gandhi

“In the end, only three things matter: how much you loved, how gently you lived, and how gracefully you let go of things not meant for you.”

— Buddha

“Every path you take, you’re leaving your legacy.”

— Michael Jackson

In his poem, Thanatopsis, William Cullen Bryant wrote that our lives should be lived so that our conscious is clear and one can:

“…approach thy grave,

Like one who wraps the drapery of his couch   

About him, and lies down to pleasant dreams.”

Native American Chief Dan George of the Tsleil-Wautu tribe brought the subject of legacy right into our living rooms, which may be where they are the most potent. He asks very simply yet wisely, Have I done everything I could to earn my grandchild’s fondness?

Once we’ve determined what we want our legacy to be, what we want chiseled in stone, we must ask ourselves daily, “How will I live today that will help build a legacy like that?” Then we must take action. Actions express priorities (Ghandi). But those lofty principles are often hard to live by. What about those of us who have stumbled along the way?

Everyone stumbles on occasion. Some trip over potholes, while others plummet headlong into canyons — even with their eyes wide open. Some pick themselves up after a fall and move forward, having learned a lesson that they won’t have to learn again. Others dive into the same abyss as before, making it appear that they haven’t learned one single thing.

Buddha said, “There are only two mistakes one can make along the road to truth: not going all the way, and not starting.” If I could be so bold as to suggest a third mistake — not getting up and trying again after a fall.

In 2 Timothy 4:7 Paul professed, “I have fought the good fight, I have kept the faith.”

If you know much about Paul’s life, you know he lost his footing on more than one occasion, but like the exhausted Ironman triathlete whose body gives out near the end of the race, Paul got back up and kept going — all the way to the finish line.

No, we can’t erase the dark places in our past. But, despite our failures, as long as we are alive and conscious we have a chance to finish this race in ways that will leave a lasting legacy that can be looked up to by our children, our grandchildren, and beyond.

If you’ve traveled the road of life with only a few small, stuttering steps, surely the heritage you pass on will be one to be honored and respected.

If you’ve traveled a rocky road and plunged to the depths at times, you still have the chance to finish your journey on a noble path. Take that pathway. Take it today. Take it now.

“Today I shall behave,

As if this is the day

I will be remembered.”

– Dr. Seuss (Theodore Geisel)

Randy Weeks is a minister and a counselor. He lives and writes in Oxford. He can be reached at peacemill369963@gmail.com.