What will your legacy be?

14 November 2014

If you died today, what would you be remembered for? What would be your legacy? Would it be kindness, compassion and generosity? Or perhaps apathy, ineptitude and anger? No matter who we are and what we do in this life, we all leave behind a legacy, intended or not.

Recently, a friend asked me what kind of legacy I want to leave for future generations. It was an unexpected question that really got the cogs turning in my mind.

Usually when people pass away there is a huge focus on their property and possessions – the ‘who gets what’ conversations. Legacy is defined in Merriam-Webster’s dictionary as “something transmitted by or received from an ancestor or predecessor from the past.”  We commonly hear about legacies ‘living on’ today when they continue to affect those in the present.

Given these terms, a legacy is not something that we have complete control over. After all, we cannot control how other people perceive us, we can only control our own actions.

But what if the most important legacy we can give our descendants is not a tangible item, but a piece of ourselves? How revolutionary!

So I started thinking about the things my nearest and dearest have shared with me. I thought about the family holidays we had in Tenerife, where my grandparents lived …. playing mini golf and swimming on windy beaches where my grandmother lost her underwear in the high winds! I remembered  taking the most eccentric things from England in our suitcases – items which were not available in Tenerife at the time…. I could go on….

Several years ago, I gave my parents a book each for Christmas – Mother’s Memories and Father’s Memories. Within the books are pertinent questions which do not naturally crop up in every day conversation but help to capture a picture of their childhood, teenage years, how they met, when I arrived and more…. The following Christmas, the books were returned in all their glory, with copious fascinating facts.

But how do I capture the legacy of my more distant ancestors? In recent days, Mum and I have been talking about family members of the past – for various reasons – and she has come out with numerous stories including one relative running off with an Austrian Count and, although I had always believed that none of her side of the family had served in World War 1, it transpires I was wrong in my belief. Two photographs of my great-grandfather in military uniform arrived by email shortly after the conversation …. The legacy is there, in a suitcase, waiting for me but, what will I leave as my legacy? What will people say about me when I am gone? What will I be remembered for?

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