Monday, January 27, 2020


I was thinking a LOT about legacy the last week or much so that I even had a dream the other night that I was sitting in a room with Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, and (if I remember correctly) LL Cool J and counseling them on the subject, with a fourth rapper (Eric Wright? Maybe) being conferenced into the session via telephone.

Why those particular individuals I have no idea...the only rap album I've ever owned was Straight Outta Compton (back in the days of cassette tapes)...unless you count Ice T's Body Count (which I don't). Bizarre. Yet, in my dream I brought a tears to Dre's eyes when I started taking about his grandmother.

As I said, bizarre. And yet, the idea has been heavily on my mind. It started with the death of Christopher Tolkien last week and was perhaps driven further into my brain with the passing of B.J. "Big Fella" Johnson (you can read about him from his friends Dan and Paul). And to top it off, I was grabbing a bite at a local sandwich shop last week when I saw this old Brent Spiner scene playing on the TV (which I still remember from the handful of ST:TNG episodes I watched, back in the day).

[yes, I realize there was another rather celebrated individual who tragically died yesterday, but this post was planned long before that event. This is just the first chance I've had to blog]

The fact of the matter is, we all die eventually (of course) and very, very few of us will ever achieve the degree of fame and notoriety in our lives that we will be celebrated and remembered by the masses in our passing...and even those of us who DO are unlikely to be remembered for more than a handful of generations before leaving the collective memory. Even the most celebrated individual is likely to be forgotten by all but the most dedicated historian (of a particular sphere)...and even then, even then, we will mainly (only) be remembered for our works, not our personalities...not for "who we are" only for what we've done.

And for most of us, the ONLY thing that will be remembered (after our immediate friends and family have likewise followed us into the great beyond) is WHAT we have done, nothing more. Think of all the amazing inventions and innovations that have been created over the decades, and consider how little we know about their originators. Consider the piano...perhaps the most powerful musical instrument created prior to powered instruments...did you know that its invention is attributed to Bartolomeo Cristofori? I didn't...and I'd bet the majority of piano students have no knowledge of (or interest in) this information; suffice is to say the piano exists. Consider the skyscrapers that grace the skyline of any major metropolitan city, marvel at how many individuals it took to construct each...and realize that the names of those individual laborers will never even rate a footnote in the history of these edifices.

History does not remember does not "judge" us. It only regards our works, the things that we create that may...or may not...have any lasting value. And what IS "lasting value" anyway? For most works, they serve only as stepping stones to later, greater innovations. Yes, someone started the industrial revolution by burning coal and heating water vapor....we've moved far beyond that now. Our creative works are built on the shoulders of others, and others will step upon us as well...IF (and only if) we are blessed with the creativity to create things that will inspire others.

This is what I've been thinking about for the last week or two. THIS. That accomplishment or recognition of accomplishment are small, perhaps even worthless, objectives to have.  Accomplishment and accolades are not the same thing as creating a legacy. A legacy is something that will outlast our finite mortal is a seed that will take root and grow and have a life beyond ourselves. Children can be a legacy...but they, too, are simply finite, mortal vessels for the immortal soul. At best, I believe children can help nurture and grow and spread the legacy of their parents. And, of course, they can create their own legacies as well.

I think...I think (I'm not certain) that going forward, this is the attitude I want to cultivate in myself, the perspective with which I want to orient my mind. Am I building a legacy for myself? This is the question I want to ask. Not "am I accomplishing anything?" Not "am I receiving due recognition (fame or fortune)?" Not "will I be remembered for this after I'm gone"...because, of course, I most definitely WILL be forgotten in 10 or 20 or 50 or 500 we will all be forgotten, eventually.

But am I creating a seed-worthy thing? Is this something that can grow and transform? That is what I mean. What am I bequeathing my children? And my children's children? Am I creating something that will be a stepping stone to something greater?

That's where my mind is at the moment. More on D&D in the next post (I hope).


  1. Hmmm...every day I read a list of saints, some of whom don't even have names. Something tells me they are more remembered for who they are, rather than what they have done. Indeed, by historic criteria, many of these people are not considered historical. Yet, here I am thanking them for being in my life every day.

    In other words, I wouldn't put so much effort in trying to placate some imagined future generation as I would on just trying to be the best person you know how. Besides, neither you nor I can control what our great-great grandchildren and their peers think of us. Remember, God's name is "I AM." I think He's trying to let us know that it is okay to just be.

    1. With regard to the Saints, I'd add the following notes to my post above:

      1. The "works" that constitute a legacy need not be a physical thing: Jesus's ministry was a Great Work that sparked and grew an incredible legacy that has been handed down for thousands of years; likewise the works of Saint Paul and Thomas Aquinas in interpreting his teachings and ministries, both of whom shaped and transformed the (Roman) Catholic church.

      [BTW, I would consider that to be a secular view of Jesus's ministry; folks viewing him through the lens of divinity might simply say his ministry, coming from God, has the caste of the eternal, and so it would be outside ordinary mortal boundaries with regard to "legacy" anyway]

      2. Catholic theologians are the "historians" of Saints...I doubt that most Catholics could name more than a handful off the top of their head, and people outside the Church are unlikely to know any but the most commercialized of the bunch.

      3. There is association between the works of a Saint and what he/she is remembered (and venerated) for. Saint Honore, for example, is venerated as the patron of bakers, despite his life and work having nothing to do with that profession. In Mexico, many small businesses have shrines and candles for Saint Jude, based on his association with silver (hardly my takeaway from his work). And then, of course, there's Saint Nicholas of Myra...

      I apologize if I seem to be knocking your comment here, and I can certainly see how aspiring to create a legacy for oneself is as hollow as aspiring to achieve any sort of achievement or accolade (as I wrote in my post). My message was more of an admonition to "remember and consider" when taking action, not one of aspiring to a particular goal.

      We CAN build legacies by just "being;" if we model behavior that can and will be emulated (by our children or students or colleagues or whoever). I agree that we can't control what our descendants think of us, nor even if they will think of us (I fully expect us all to be forgotten...eventually). But the works we do can plant seeds that will grow and last beyond us.

      I guess, just thinking in terms of legacy, I want to consider if the seeds I'm planting are the ones I'd like to grow...and if the answer is "no" perhaps a different course might stand me in better stead.

    2. You don't need to apologize. Actually, I think this all just speaks to my point. St. Honore didn't plan on being the patron saint of bakers...yet here he is. I do have to admit, however, that there is much less of an emphasis in the Orthodox world about praying to specific saints for specific issues. It does happen, but there is more of an emphasis on a relationship. There are saints that have introduced themselves to me through various means and I know they have my back.

      BTW as a trained historian, hagiographies are very much looked down upon. Most are disregarded as myth or legendary development. From personal experience, I can tell you that these people really aren't remembered for what they did, but for who they are. We know who they are because we know them and experience them in our lives.