You are fettered, said Scrooge, trembling. Tell me why? I wear the chain I forged in life, replied the Ghost. I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will I wore it. Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol
What will be my legacy?
I always return to this question as one year ends and another begins and, in the case of 2020, as one decade fades into history and another decade prepares to take center stage. Not sure just why that curious query enters my thoughts now. Maybe it's because as I age and another Happy New Year! rings out, I realize that there are more Auld Ang Synes behind me than before me. That my chances to make a mark in this world are limited by time and fate.
And so, I wonder what will be my legacy?
What will I be remembered for, after I leave this earth and return to the Creator who made me? How about you? What will be your legacy? The life you will leave behind, the lives of others you touched and made better, or did not? The life of the community you lived in that is a better place, or is not, because you called that part of Creation home? How do you want to be remembered?
It's tempting to see these questions as somehow morbid, or too tender or too scary to ask. I get that. Who wants to imagine this life without one's self? Yet the truth is we are all born and we all live and we will all die, all of us, one day, perhaps in a very long time or perhaps sooner than we think. God only knows when that time will come, so it seems to me imperative that every once in a while like on the eve of another New Year's Eve we should think about this. My legacy. Reflect on this. Our legacies.
Not in material things, in what we will to our heirs. As a lifelong enthusiastic consumer, I know I put far too much stock into what I have, what I possess, what I own, what earthy things are important to me right now. We all do. We've got stuff, after all. Lots of stuff. Too much stuff. I've got a big house full of so many things. Though I fantasize that my stuff is precious, the reality is that all of these things: they will eventually rust and they will decay and they will fall apart and one day be no more, consigned to the landfill or the Salvation Army.
I mean really: will anyone want the legacy of my big-screen TV? Or my thousands of books (mostly science fiction) or my collection of far too many coffee mugs (don't even ask) or the broken snowblower in the garage I will surely fix someday (not!)? To me that's not a legacy, not in the truest sense. The world may tell us that she who dies with the most toys wins, but to God? To life? To those we leave behind? Stuff is just stuff. Disposable. Here today. Gone tomorrow.
The real legacy of life is an accumulation of the tens of thousands of daily moral and ethical and spiritual choices that we make each day. How we decide to live: this alone will determine our most important legacy on that last day.
Did our one life make a difference for the good? Did we use that life, a gift to us from our generous Creator, for the good, for the positive, and in service to others? Did we forgive quickly and love boldly? Were we merciful to the very young and to the very old? Did we help those who struggled in life: the poor, the sick, the lonely, the powerless? Were we good citizens and did we give ourselves over to some cause or ideal greater than ourselves? Did we laugh too often and cry too deeply and live with reckless joy and take risks and fall down and get back up and try again? Did we live with humility, knowing that we were just another bozo on the bus of life, no greater, no worse, than any of our fellow passenger?
Or did we live for self alone? Did we mock or tear down others to build our own selves up? Did we seek power for the sake of power, or use the authority we had over others to exploit or hurt them or to add to our own largesse? Did we take the gift of our body but then not treat it well? Were we quick to judge and slow to accept? Were we miserly with our money, hoarding it all for ourselves? Did we imagine that the way we lived: this alone was the answer for everyone else's life? Did we live with cynicism, expecting the worst, or live with apathy, leaving the work of life up to others? Did we imagine ourselves better than others? Did we die with a house full of possessions and a full bank account but with a sparsely attended memorial service?
What will be our legacy?
The good news is that if we are reading this, the legacy question has yet to be answered. So, Happy New Year but more important, happy legacy. I know I've still got lots of work to do. How about you?
The Rev. John F. Hudson is senior pastor of the Pilgrim Church, United Church of Christ, in Sherborn (pilgrimsherborn.org). If you have a word or idea you'd like defined in a future column or have comments, please send them to email@example.com or in care of the Dover-Sherborn Press (Dover-Sherborn@wickedlocal.com).
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