I think personal legacy is something most people contemplate at some point in their lives. How do I want to be remembered? What piece of me do I want to live on after I’m gone?
These questions become even more focused when one becomes a parent. Will my children continue to live by the values I’ve taught even if I’m no longer there to instill them? Will my contribution to the world be something they can learn from and are proud of?
For me, that’s part of the attraction to writing. The words I type will go on — or have the potential to at least — for decades, if not centuries, after my time is up. Sure, there’s an element of ego involved. Pride certainly plays a role. But it’s more than that. In a way, the idea of legacy is what gives our lives meaning. If, after we die, there is no evidence of us having lived, then what’s the point of it all?
Recent events in my life have caused me to think about this even more lately.
We lost my dad a little over two weeks ago. He fought off cancer for almost two years before it took his life. Looking at it this way makes him one of many millions who have succumbed to this horrible disease. Looking at it this way could make him not so special. Forgettable, even. But he wasn’t forgettable. He wasn’t just my dad. He wasn’t one of a million. He was one in a million. And by all accounts he was a pretty special guy.
I know what you’re thinking. That’s easy for a son to say. But even during those moments when I’ve thought objectively, and tried to remove my bias, I’ve realized it’s still true beyond my feelings about the man. His reach stretched further than most. His impact was undeniable. His spirit was contagious.
One of the things I’ve come to realize in recent days is how a person can live on after their death. I’ve received so many notes and messages, and heard so many comments about how his life positively affected someone else. Many have said his example has changed their life. And as we grieve his loss, that’s a comforting thing to hear.
He certainly was special to us, but to hear (and see) how special he was to so many others, whether they knew him well or not, that feeling can’t be described.
Dying isn’t what made him special. Everybody does that. How he lived is what made him stand out. How he cared for and treated other people is what made him unique. His willingness to help however, whenever made him unforgettable. Living a life worth remembering is what made him special.
The best part is none of those factors cost money. They don’t require much of your time. They really don’t require you to do anything except give a crap about others. Empathy, sympathy, and kindness are free, and the more you give, the more you get.
That’s what legacy is all about. Generously using the tools you possess to improve the life of another. By doing so, we give purpose and meaning not only to our lives, but to those we’ve met along the way. We’re all going to die one day, but if we do it right, our legacy will live on forever. What are you doing to build yours? If the clock ran out on you today, what would your lasting impact be?