By Stephen Doherty
February 6th, 2022
“What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments,
but what is woven into the lives of others.” -Pericles
On a cosmic scale, our lives are but an eyeblink in the annals of time. We draw our first breath as we exit the womb followed by a quick and dusty return to the dirt. What lies between those two markers is the totality of our respective lives. Memories of our existence will fade within a generation and for most of us, the entirety of our lives will quickly, and forever be scattered to the winds of time.
The eternal question that haunts us all is, “What mark was left behind that gives credence to my existence?”
This isn’t a theological exercise intended to shake anyone’s faith or start an argument. This is merely my musings on what crayon marks we may have scratched onto the etchings of our lives that might survive us. It’s an attempt to define the word legacy, as we all will likely have our own definitions unique to each of us.
The simple fact is that while most of our respective lives and accomplishments may not be memorialized throughout time in the history books – each of us will leave our own history books behind – one no more or less important than the other. I think the great hope we all have is simply that our lives mattered to other people. How, why, and to what degree is the miracle of the vast differences – and similarities – in all of our lives.
I think that the legacies most of us seek to build and leave behind are mostly about the lives of our kids. It’s not a value judgment on those that might not have chosen to have kids – I’m sure their legacies are rich and founded in similar bedrocks – I just believe that for most of us, our legacies will be defined in and through the lives of our children. To that end, I believe these three things meld together to create whatever presence and influence we might have shed upon our children.
In life, we take tremendous pride and satisfaction in the memories we build and leave behind for our kids. Our own hearts are warmed today with the knowledge that the stories we built and the experiences we shared will survive us for years to come and provide comfort and happiness throughout their own lifetimes.
I smile when I think of my kids, old and gray, someday toasting memories of our lives together over a cup of cocoa and smiling with each new telling of a cherished moment that began with, “Remember when we….!?” As a wise man once said, “A memory is a photograph taken by the heart to make a special moment last forever.”
My mom once told me that her “eternal life” will come via each act of kindness, generosity, and compassion that her children extended after she was gone. To her, this was truly the butterfly flapping its wings in the north and causing a hurricane in the south. She was certain she’d feel those vibes wherever the cosmos may have deposited her and would leave her smiling.
For me, I have said on many occasions that my life’s “mark” will come in the form, someday, of someone bragging about what great neighbors my kids are. Character matters and will define all of us long after we’re gone. The quality of our kids is the truest measure of our legacies.
One of my favorite quotes is, “My dad never told me how to live my life. He lived his – and let me watch!” Our kids revel with us in moments of victory and triumph but some of their greatest lessons are gleaned from the frailty of our own being.
All of us will fail, some of us miserably. No child can be shielded from that. How we respond will be the lynchpin by which our kids face their own challenges and adversity.
John Wooden once said, “You can learn a page from a victory, but you’ll learn a book from defeat.” I believe there is no greater lesson conveyed than how they see us respond to life’s worst moments. It’s a life skill without equal.
John Adams once said, “To be good, and to do good, is all we have to do.” Ah, would that it were so simple. Legacy. Take great comfort in the marks you leave that cannot be erased.
“A man’s true wealth is the good he does in the world.” -Khahil Gibran