Wednesday, August 12, 2020


This is the twenty-second in a series of periodic reflections on the "ordinary things" that many people do on a regular basis without much thought. During this pandemic, I am developing a need to "rage, rage" against haste and laziness and replace it with care and attention. My hope is to become personally more intentional about doing ordinary things with care and focused attention, while inspiring others to maybe do the same.

Leaving a Legacy

I will prove myself worthy of my old age, and I will leave to the young an example of how to die willingly and generously for the revered and holy law. 
II Maccabees 6:28 

I don't think I obsess about it, but it occurred to me the other day that during this pandemic I have thought about, and wrote about, death quite often! Much of it has to do with the fact that death is in the headline news everyday. Along with that, in the last month or two, I have been called on to do four grave-side services which has contributed to my thinking about death as well. All this, along with reaching the age of seventy-six, has led me to realize that death has become a point of reflection that I need to embrace on a personal level. If all that is not enough, the other day I got some help from the Chancery Office.  They sent me papers to fill out, telling me that it was time for me to update my funeral and end-of-life plans! Do they know something that I don't know? Hmmm! 

In my reflections, I have thought often of old Eleazar in the Old Testament. Eleazar was a very old Jewish man who was given the choice of eating pork against the teachings of his sacred faith or be killed. He could have saved his life by “going along.” His friends even tried to help him devise a scheme where he merely “appeared” to eat pork. He made up his mind to remain loyal to the holy laws of God and reject any efforts to "fake it." 

His reasons are worth quoting directly. “At our age it would be unbecoming to make such a pretense; many young men would think the ninety-year old Eleazar had gone over to an alien religion. Should I thus dissimulate for the sake of a brief moment of life, they would be led astray by me, while I bring shame and dishonor on my old age.” 

“Even if for the time being, I avoid the punishment of men, I shall never, whether alive or dead, escape the hands of the Almighty. Therefore, by manfully giving up my life now, I will prove myself worthy of my old age, and I will leave to the young a noble example of how to die willingly and generously for the revered and holy laws.” (II Maccabees 6:24-28) 

In my reflections, the word “legacy” came to mind. A legacy is something that a person leaves behind by which they can be remembered. When you don’t have children, an established charitable foundation or a public monument dedicated in your honor, what can your legacy be? 

As for my own legacy, the words of Shannon Alder might be a good place to start. “Carve your name on hearts, not tombstones. A legacy is etched into the minds of others and the stories they share about you.” The only part of that sentiment that really scares me to death is the part “the stories they share about you!” However, Oscar Wilde may have been right when he said, “There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.” 

The legacy I wish to leave behind may be outlined in one line of an old prayer that I said almost every week when I visited the nursing home. It is called “Learning Christ.” It is a prayer that a dear friend, Marea Gardner, introduced me to in her final days. This one line always stood out for me. “May no one be less good for having come within my influence.” Yes, that’s it! I want my legacy to be the fact that the people who crossed my path left better off! 

My prayer, then, going forward can be summed up in the words of that prominent Quaker missionary from the early 1800s, Stephen Grellet. “I shall pass through this world but once. Any good therefore that I can do or any kindness that I can show to any human being, let me do it now. Let me not defer or neglect it, for I shall not pass this way again.” 

“What will you leave behind?” Since I don’t have children, I probably will not leave much! However, I do like to think that some of my “encouraging words” might continue to live on for a while after I am gone because I took the time to publish them in little spiritual reading books. In my home, I have a wall of framed book covers that I have been calling my “baby pictures.”  

It’s not the number of books that count, however, it is the “encouraging words” in them that really count! The words of Maya Angelou come to mind. “I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” This is the legacy I want. “He made me feel good about myself.” “He always offered me an “encouraging word.” “I was better off from knowing him.” 

Today I want to offer an encouraging word to all men and women, my age and older, as regards our “legacies” - the examples we set and leave behind for the young. For many of you, it is for your children and grandchildren. For me, it is my twenty nieces and nephews, as well as the parishioners, seminarians, friends and college students with whom I have done my ministry. 

I often ask myself these days, “What will my many parishioners, nieces, nephews, seminarians, college students and friends remember about me? Have I been kind, encouraging, generous, magnanimous and affirming toward them? Will they remember me as a credible example of fidelity and practicing what I have preached?” I truly hope so because I have certainly tried! 

What will your "legacy" be? What do you want it to be? You may still have time to build it up - or even repair it if necessary! 

No comments:

Post a Comment