I’ve been talking with my wife about legacy a lot in the last year. As in, A…LOT. What it is, what it means, how we do it right. So when I heard that Reggie Joiner was doing a series at Gwinnett Church about legacy I was obviously interested in tuning in. I would highly suggest checking it out. He has some really great points, even if you aren’t into the whole “God” thing. http://www.northpointministries.org/gwinnett/messages/legacy. (On a side note, I just read a post at The Smart Bear blog where a guy who would be rated as successful by most people’s terms wrestles with this idea as well. Always interesting to see how this issue affects all of us the same.)
There were two things he mentioned Cherie and I have talked about before, so they really resonated with me. I’ve been marinating on them for a few days now and thought I’d put my thoughts into text since that usually helps me begin to get clarity. Here are those two points:
- You will be forgotten
- Look for the bigger picture not the better life
Yep, that’s right. Even Mr. Jobs will be forgotten eventually. (To all the Apple fan club, I’m sorry. But he’ll still be forgotten.)
The first time the idea that I’d be forgotten really settled into my heart was almost a cliche moment. I was laying in bed unable to sleep staring at the clock one night. (No, it wasn’t raining.) But I had a thought running through my head. No matter what I do, no matter how “big” I become in this life the likelihood is that when I’m gone and my great grandchildren are adult I will have been reduced to a few stories. A generation or two after that and I’ll be completely forgotten. In other words, nothing I do will be remembered or matter.
Facing this truth isn’t hard. It’s crushing. What do you do with that? If nothing matters and it’s all to be forgotten why not just stop? Eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow we die!
At about the time I was ready to drive to the nearest 24 hour liquor store and start getting my Leaving Las Vegas on, a thought began to form in my mind. What if being forgotten was the best thing I could have happen to me? Knowing I’ll be forgotten forces me to stop thinking about, well, myself. Leaving a legacy isn’t about me creating something but instead jumping into something. It’s about seeing the story that is unfolding around me in the world. Getting deeply passionate about the human race and living to push that drama in a better direction. To put it in Reggie’s words, I could stop focusing on the better life and start focusing on the bigger picture.
The bigger picture. That is the answer to meaning. It isn’t being remembered or powerful. It isn’t even about building something that outlasts me. Because anything I create will eventually die. What I can do that no one else in all history is able to do is make the direct impact on the people around me like I can. I can be a ripple in their lives that drives our small worlds in better directions. They can do the same in theirs and together our little ripples will form a tsunami of change that happens over generations.
Think about the “great” people of our times. Billy Graham, Mother Theresa, Ghandi. What do they all have in common? Over 99% of the population in the world couldn’t name even one of their parents. But without the family that preceded them would they have been able to be the great men and women they became? Good, bad or indifferent the legacy of their families helped make them who they were. Without those people there would have been no Billy Graham. No Ghandi. No Lincoln or Churchill.
So no, I may not ever be a “great” person and I will likely be forgotten. But the things I set in motion with my life may create a lift in the tide of my heritage that gives someone down the line the foundation to stand on to be recognized as great. I will have helped the human story be richer. Those around me will have a bigger impact because of the ripples I sent out.
And that makes being forgotten an exciting thing.