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Living Simple: What Will Your Legacy Be?
Bev and I are quite fond of drives in the country when time allows. We grab our cameras and head off to sites yet unseen in hopes of finding memories for the future. Inevitably we will stop to take pictures of old barns as we both have a love of all things old. The other place we can be counted on to visit is any cemetery we have previously not seen.
For years I have roamed cemeteries, reading the tombstones, trying in some small way to divine what each person must have been like during life. Usually I am disappointed because so little is written on the tombstone and it leaves me with a feeling of emptiness, like meeting someone you think you will like but never getting the chance to form a meaningful relationship.
When I was younger I would not have been able to explain this hold that cemeteries had over me but as I have grown older I think I understand a little bit better. I have grown to appreciate the human race and I now find fascination where once there was condemnation. I have come to realize over the years that we are all imperfect and we are all capable of acts of debasement but also incredible acts of kindness and love. We are, in fact, a marvel to me and I strive to hear or read as many stories of people as possible.
THE WHOLE PICTURE
To try to understand a person based on one act or several years of their life is a foolish undertaking. We are such complicated beings and the whole picture of a person cannot be seen simply by watching several frames of the movie that is their life. Imagine going to the movie theater and watching five minutes in the middle of the movie and then leaving for home where you will write a movie review for the local newspaper. How can that possibly be done? And yet so often we make a snap judgment about others based on one act or just a small portion of their life.
Rather a person is the sum total of all of their experiences, all of their thoughts and words and actions, and in order to truly know that person one must attempt, and here I am borrowing an old chess term, to see the whole board rather than just the movement of one or two pieces on that board.
WHAT IS A LEGACY?
Webster’s tells us that legacy means: something transmitted by or received from an ancestor or predecessor or from the past<thelegacyof the ancient philosophers>. In other words, a legacy is something passed down to others and in most connotations we are referring to something passed down after death, i.e. Jesus left a legacy of ’love thy neighbor’ to his followers.
Note that ‘love thy neighbor’ is one quality, belief or teaching used in this case to describe the whole man known as Jesus. There can be very little doubt that the life of Jesus was made up of hundreds of thousands of actions, words and thoughts but his legacy is generally considered having to do with a general them of love. In a similar vein it could be argued that the legacy of Martin Luther King was racial equality even though his life was much more complicated than that; if one were to take individual moments from King’s life one might see a different legacy, but viewed in totality the legacy becomes something altogether different.
WHAT IS MY LEGACY?
I would hope that I still have some time left on this planet in which to add to my growing legacy. I would also hope that my legacy is not based on any one action, word or thought taken from my life. This morning I yelled at the dog for chewing on my pant leg; I would hope that based on that action alone my legacy would not be that of an animal hater for in fact I have owned and loved many animals over the years.
What is my legacy? It is an interesting question to ponder as I skip down the road of life. Without a doubt I have had my dark days when I did harm to myself and others. Is my legacy those dark days when alcohol ruled my life? Is my legacy one of divorce and failed businesses? Perhaps my legacy is one of broken hearts, lies and promises left unfulfilled?
On the other hand my legacy may be of the love I feel now, a love that is given equally to everyone I meet. It may well be a legacy overflowing with kindness and acts of service and mercy.
From my standpoint the beauty of all this is that I still have time to choose what my legacy will be and make no mistake about it, this is a matter of choice. I made the choice a little over five years ago to turn my life around. Gone is the alcohol; gone is the ego that so controlled my life. In their place I have substituted humility and empathy, compassion and love. I still have time, or so I hope, to re-write my legacy so that it is something I can be proud of when my days come to an end. It is my choice!
WHAT WILL YOUR LEGACY BE?
I will repeat a statement of fact: you can choose what your legacy will be. I have known some incredible people during my lifetime, people who have overcome horrible lives, some of their own making, and emerged pillars of humanity. They made that choice. One does not just wake up one morning a changed human being. Change so monumental as to be noticed during one’s lifetime and after death requires a decision to make that change.
Fate does not determine our legacy; fate is at times a determining factor or impetus that brings about change but the final decision is ours. I know people who have tragically lost loved ones; they had every reason known to man to become bitter and depressed and see only darkness and yet they have moved forward and not allowed the light to disappear from their lives. We often read stories in the newspaper of mothers who have lost children to cancer; instead of wallowing in grief they have taken up the cause and promoted cancer research. They made the decision that their legacy was not going to be one of grief but rather one of education and support for other cancer victims.
So I repeat: WHAT WILL YOUR LEGACY BE?
THE CHOICE IS YOURS AND YOURS ALONE
I have said often that I value empathy and compassion much more than I value sympathy. If I am able to understand how a person feels then I can act accordingly and be of some value to that person. To simply give sympathy and move on is to me a hollow act. It is much too easy to simply say “I am sorry” and then move on un-impeded to make my next sympathetic statement. Conversely, it takes some real effort to take the time to understand how someone feels, to share in that feeling and then lend a helping hand if wanted and needed.
Having said that I can tell you all that I completely understand grief, guilt and self-loathing. I have visited the darkness and allowed it to nearly smother the life out of me. I have chased the Almighty Dollar and I have gathered enough possessions to feed a thousand egos. It all left me empty inside and longing for something more, some glimpse of the light that had always held so much promise.
I found that "something more" when I embraced the Living Simple Philosophy.
Today I have found the light and it will guide me as I go about fashioning my lasting legacy. We all have the choice to do the same. The final chapter of our legacy will not be written until we have drawn our last breath and only then will the legacy be spoken about and remembered for time eternal.
The choice is yours! What will it be?
2012 Bill Holland (aka billybuc)
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